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The infamous criminal-defense attorney Henry Drummond
arrives in Hillsboro vilified as an atheist but leaves, after losing
the trial, as a hero. To the audience—and to many of the townspeople—Drummond
makes a convincing case for the right of a human being to think.
He accomplishes this feat by exposing the contradictions underlying
his witnesses’ inherited religious beliefs. During the case, Drummond
demonstrates that people know less than what they believe themselves
to know. His greatest triumph in the name of free thought is getting
Howard Blair to admit that he has not made up his mind about evolutionary
theory. When we hear this admission, Drummond’s point becomes clear:
freedom of thought becomes the freedom to be wrong or to change
our minds. The world, viewed in this light, is full of possibilities.
Although Drummond typically exposes the shortcomings of
his subjects’ beliefs in gentle fashion, his cross-examination of
Matthew Harrison Brady causes humiliation and hysteria. Brady self-destructs
when his convictions about the literal truth of the Bible wither
under the light of Drummond’s skepticism. Until that point, Drummond
deploys his wry wit—his purple suspenders from Nebraska, his cracks
about the unfairness of Brady’s title and the judge’s announcement
of a Bible meeting but no evolutionist meeting—to no one’s harm,
while ironically exposing the injustice that his defendant faces.
While Drummond’s attack of Brady is not mean-spirited, it is devastating.
At the same time, the power of Drummond’s attack stems not so much
from Drummond’s wit as from the weight of Brady’s egotism, stubbornness,
and arrogance as they collapse in his ranting testimony.
Unlike Brady, Drummond does not conceive of truth as a
set of fixed rules that can be read from a book and imposed on society.
His wonder about the world, which he shares and encourages in Cates, allows
him to “look behind the paint,” to interpret events for more than
their obvious meanings. Drummond’s thorough examination of his witnesses’
beliefs exposes complexities and contradictions in the same way
that Cates’s microscopes reveal to his students complexities of
life and matter not visible to the naked eye.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Inherit the Wind!