As his jailer, Mr. Meeker, points out, Bertram Cates is not a criminal type. A quiet, unassuming twenty-four-year-old, Cates is innocent, naïve, and wondrous about the world—and he suffers emotionally as a result of the townspeople’s treatment of him. He struggles to stand up as an individual even as the crowd opposes his views and actions. Although he remains idealistic throughout Inherit the Wind, he often needs Drummond’s encouragement to persevere with his cause. Cates doubts himself at times, especially when Rachel pleads him to admit his guilt and beg forgiveness.
In several instances in the play, Cates displays the humanity of an open, forgiving mind, as do the other evolutionists and progressives. Ironically, forgiveness comes more readily to Cates than to his staunchly Christian neighbors—foremost among them Reverend Brown, whose fire-and-brimstone sermons led Cates to abandon the church. Although Rachel unwittingly and unwillingly betrays Cates by testifying against him at Brady’s behest, he sympathizes with her pain as she becomes distraught during her time on the witness stand. In fact, Cates urges the court to dismiss Rachel from the stand, which denies her the chance to defend Cates when questioned by Drummond. In the end, when Cates leaves town with Rachel, we see that his trial has opened Rachel’s mind as well.