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Inherit the Wind

Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

How does Brady’s character relate to the idea of hubris, or pride? How is his character tragic?

At the beginning of the play, Brady has confidence in his abilities to win the trial. Scornful of the threat that Drummond might present to him as the opposing attorney, Brady never considers the prospect of his subsequent failure. Brady derives his authority from his upholding of the Bible and derives his self-worth from the crowd’s reverence of him. The townspeople’s initial awe infuses Brady with hubris, with an inflated sense of his own abilities. Later, when he loses their support, his composure crumbles along with his confidence.

Brady ran for president in three consecutive elections but never won. This failure plagues him throughout his life and manifests itself during the trial. When he falls ill following his ranting responses to Drummond’s line of questioning, he deliriously spews forth a speech he had prepared for his never-realized presidential victory. When Drummond humiliates Brady with questions that expose the contradictions behind his rigid, literal belief in the Bible, Brady becomes a fallen hero. His death confirms his underwhelming victory in the trial as a profound, fatal disappointment.

2.

What is the significance of the playwrights’ description of the setting of the play? What does it say about their attitudes toward Southern fundamentalism?

Lawrence and Lee mean for us to consider Hillsboro not as an individual town but as a symbol of small towns across America, a symbol of the narrow-mindedness that they believe such towns breed. Distinctions between urban and small-town life recur throughout the play. Urban living inherently exposes people to more diversity than small-town living—and indeed, progressives more often inhabit cities than they do small towns. In cities, rapid urbanization, immigration, and technological improvements expose city dwellers to a wide range of new ideas.

In Inherit the Wind, the playwrights relate the struggle of fundamentalism against progressivism to the struggle of conservative farmers against the policies of more liberal city-dwellers. The playwrights place the townspeople of Hillsboro, with their rural dialect, dress, and behavior—some of them illiterate—in contrast with E. K. Hornbeck and Henry Drummond, sophisticated and eloquent city dwellers. Reverend Brown, the most visible figure of authority in Hillsboro, displays an extreme narrow-mindedness that has no room for the compassion we see in the urban, agnostic Drummond.

3.

What purpose does Cates and Rachel’s romantic relationship serve in inherit the wind?

Rachel’s relationship with Cates speeds her personal development and highlights the main conflict of the play—fundamentalism versus freedom of thought—in a personal and dramatic way. Throughout the play, Rachel is caught in a bind between her father, Reverend Brown, and her romantic interest, Cates. The cruel and heartless Reverend Brown not only has frightened Rachel from a young age but also rants at a town prayer meeting that her soul is damned for supporting Cates. Cates, meanwhile, as a liberal teacher who has conveyed the theory of evolution to his students, stands in bold opposition to Rachel’s father and his views. These two characters test Rachel’s loyalties until Rachel ultimately decides to leave her father and side with Cates at the conclusion of the trial. In this choice, Rachel demonstrates her recognition of the value of free thought and her rejection of the confining, fundamentalist thinking of her father’s church community.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. What is the fundamental conflict in inherit the wind? Discuss the ways in which the playwrights support this theme through their characters and motifs.

2. Why do the playwrights imply, in their note preceding the play, that the themes of their play are timeless and universal? What relevance do these themes have today?

3. How does Melinda and Howard’s interaction in the first scene of inherit the wind foreshadow the play’s main theme?

4. Discuss the historical context of inherit the wind in terms of the Scopes trial and the rapidly changing society of the United States in the 1920s.

5. How does the play speak to the struggle of the individual versus larger society? What message does it contain about the power of the individual to change society?

6. Outline the various techniques Drummond uses over the course of the trial to undermine Brady’s literal interpretation of the Bible. How does Drummond finally humiliate his opponent?

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