All shine, and no substance!
The next day, the courtroom audience awaits the jury’s verdict. Hornbeck enters and mockingly bows before Brady. Cates and Drummond discuss whether Cates will go to jail. Drummond tells the story of Golden Dancer, a rocking horse he received as a birthday present at age seven. The horse looked beautiful in the store window but broke the first time Drummond tried to ride it.
A radio reporter sets up a microphone. The mayor tells the judge that state authorities are worried about the press coverage surrounding the case. The mayor cautions the judge to “go easy” on Cates should the jury hand down a guilty verdict. The radio reporter warns Drummond not to swear or say the word “God” during the broadcast. The jury returns, and the judge asks for the verdict. Sillers hands the verdict to the judge, who pronounces Cates guilty. The crowd’s reaction is loud but mixed.
The judge calls for order and starts to announce a sentence, but Drummond cuts him off, citing the defendant’s right to make a statement before sentencing. Cates admits to a lack of public speaking skills and says that he is only a teacher. He calls the law he broke unjust and vows to continue to oppose it. He trails off mid-sentence and sits down.
Glancing at the mayor, the judge declares Cates’s punishment to be a $100 fine. Brady angrily demands a harsher sentence. The judge grants Drummond the right to appeal the case to a higher court. Brady asks permission to read a statement, but Drummond objects. The judge instructs Brady to read his remarks to the crowd before declaring the court adjourned.
The courtroom becomes chaotic with screaming children and food vendors. The judge tries several times to get the crowd’s attention for Brady’s remarks. Finally, Brady begins his triumphant speech, but the radio reporter interrupts and asks him to speak more clearly. When Brady resumes his speech, people start to leave the courtroom. The radio reporter cuts Brady off, saying that a producer in Chicago has told him that their time is up. Brady picks up his speech again after the microphone is removed, but he suddenly freezes up and collapses. Onlookers come to his aid. While Brady is being carried out of the courtroom, he deliriously recites what sounds like an victory speech for a presidential election. Hornbeck makes a half-mocking, half-sympathetic speech about political losers like Brady.
Cates asks Drummond whether he won or lost. Drummond tells Cates he won a moral victory by bringing national attention to his case. Cates submits himself to Meeker to be returned to jail, but Meeker says that Hornbeck and the Baltimore Herald have put up $500 for Cates’s bail.
Rachel comes in with a suitcase and says she is leaving her father. She hands Cates a book of his and tells him that she read it but didn’t understand it. Rachel apologizes to Drummond and says that she always used to be scared of thinking. She concludes that the possibility of thoughts being bad shouldn’t prevent people from thinking them.
Suddenly, the judge enters and announces that Brady has died of a “busted belly.” Drummond reacts with sadness, but Hornbeck unleashes a sarcastic tirade against Brady, calling him a “Barnum-bunkum Bible-beating bastard.” Drummond scolds Hornbeck for deriding Brady’s religion, and the two argue about Brady’s merits. Drummond calls Brady great, while Hornbeck accuses Drummond of undue sentimentality and predicts that Brady will be forgotten. Hornbeck leaves.
Cates asks Drummond how much an appeal will cost, but Drummond dismisses the issue of cost. In their rush to leave for the train, Rachel and Cates leave behind Cates’s copy of Darwin—the book she returned to him. Drummond picks up the copy of Darwin and also picks up the court’s copy of the Bible. He holds one in each hand and pretends to balance them like a scale. He then puts both books in his briefcase and walks out of the courtroom and away across the square.
You see, I haven’t really thought very much. I was always afraid of what I might think—so it seemed safer not to think at all. But now I know. A thought is like a child inside our body. It has to be born. If it dies inside you, part of you dies too!
Early in the play’s final scene, as Cates and Drummond discuss the trial, Drummond recounts his childhood love for a rocking horse called “Golden Dancer.” Drummond uses the story to warn Cates that shiny appearances may obscure hidden problems and truths. He advises Cates to seek out and expose the truth in any way he can, as a service both to himself and to the public. This lesson relates to Drummond’s own personal and professional experiences in searching for the truth as a lawyer. The story also sheds light on Drummond’s understated, self-reliant style in the courtroom. Brady, meanwhile, uses an elaborate and showy style of oration that Drummond likens to the rocking horse—it has an appealing exterior but little substance. To Drummond, anyone in search of truth can see beyond Brady’s flashy but insubstantial words.
Rachel’s development, which is constant throughout the play, becomes complete in the last scene. Although many townspeople open their minds to new ideas during the trial, the playwrights allow us an especially intimate look at Rachel’s psychological development. In Rachel, we see the process by which an individual sheds values that have been forced upon her and begins to rely on her own intellect. Of all the characters, Rachel undergoes the most profound personal transformation over the course of the play, ultimately opening her heart to Cates and her mind to new ideas. Her father’s status as the religious leader of Hillsboro and her conflicting love for the outcast Cates place Rachel in a painful position. These opposing forces in her life provide an opportunity for growth. At the beginning of the trial, Rachel, longing for a return to “normalcy,” urges Cates to admit his guilt. After the trial, however, Rachel abandons her father. This decision demonstrates her full maturity into womanhood, her breaking free from a painful part of her life, and her newfound identification with Cates’s cause—freedom of thought and action.
The last few moments of the play, in which Drummond weighs the Bible in one hand against On the Origin of Species in the other, carry symbolic significance. During the trial, Drummond has fought for the individual’s right to think outside the boundaries prescribed by organized religion. An agnostic, uncertain about the nature and existence of God, Drummond does not demonstrate a strong allegiance to religion. On the other hand, however, he does not seem to embrace evolution wholeheartedly either. Drummond advocates for the individual’s right to make up his own mind—or for the right to postpone that choosing. He balances the two books in his hands, as if on scales. This act, which alludes to the scales of justice, represents Drummond’s belief that each book has equal worth. As he “half-smiles, half-shrugs” upon exiting the courtroom, he contemplates whether his efforts in Cates’s trial have furthered justice.