A twenty-four-year-old science teacher and the defendant in the trial. A soft-spoken and humble man, Cates has been arrested for teaching his students the theory of evolution from a biology textbook. His outlook on human knowledge is skeptical, and he wonders about the nature of the universe.
A national political figure and a three-time loser in presidential campaigns who arrives in Hillsboro to lead the prosecution in Cates’s trial. A Christian fundamentalist and Nebraska native, Brady defends the literal truth of the Bible against what he labels Cates’s big-city agnosticism. Drummond, however, exposes the obvious contradictions of this viewpoint, much to Brady’s embarrassment.
A famous lawyer from Chicago whom the Baltimore Herald sendsto defend Cates. Drummond, a believer in human progress, argues for freedom of thought.
A cynical, wisecracking journalist and critic who speaks in colorful phrases. Hornbeck travels to Hillsboro to cover the trial for the Baltimore Herald. He despises Brady’s religious fundamentalism and the townspeople’s simple-minded acceptance of Brady’s views. In his column, Hornbeck portrays Cates as a hero.
The figure of religious authority in Hillsboro. Reverend Brown preaches a creed based on the fear of God and the punishment of sinners.
The daughter of Reverend Brown. Twenty-two-year-old Rachel teaches the second grade at the school where Cates also taught. Rachel is close friend of Cates, and their relationship has a romantic element. Rachel fears her father’s disapproval and becomes upset when Brady calls on her to testify about her personal conversations with Cates.
The judge presiding over Cates’s trial. The judge conducts the trial impartially, although his personal views about the Bible’s legitimacy are in line with those of the rest of the townspeople of Hillsboro. At the mayor’s prompting, the judge gives Cates a lenient sentence after the jury’s guilty verdict.
The bailiff at the Hillsboro courthouse. Meeker lets Cates in and out of his jail cell and jokes that Cates is a threat to the community.
Matthew Harrison Brady’s wife. Mrs. Brady monitors her husband and nags him not to overeat. Brady calls her “Mother.”
A twelve-year-old girl. Melinda believes in the Bible and fears the idea of evolution.
A student in Cates’s science class. Howard grasps the idea of evolution in only a rudimentary way, as we see when he asks a worm in the play’s opening scene what it wants to be when it grows up. At the trial, Howard gives testimony that is used against Cates.
An outspoken Hillsboro woman. On behalf of the Hillsboro Ladies’ Aid, Mrs. Krebs serves lunch to Brady on his arrival in town.
An eleven-year-old boy who drowned while swimming in a river. Cates befriended Stebbins, who had a curious nature and enjoyed looking through Cates’s microscope. According to Reverend Brown, Stebbins was damned when he died because he was never baptized. Brown’s harsh condemnation of Stebbins disgusted Cates, who stopped attending church.
A member of the jury. Bannister has read neither Darwin nor the Bible because he is illiterate.
A mountain man. The illiterate Elijah sells Bibles to the townspeople and preaches his beliefs to the crowd.
The mayor of Hillsboro. The mayor supports Brady and welcomes him to town by naming him an honorary colonel in the state militia. Under pressure from the state capitol, he instructs the judge to pass a lenient sentence at the trial’s conclusion.
The local district attorney. Davenport assists Brady during the trial. He attempts to stop Drummond’s humiliation of Brady at the end of the trial, but by the time he objects, Brady has already made a fool of himself.
A radio host from WGN in Chicago. Esterbrook broadcasts the announcement of the verdict and Cates’s sentencing and cuts off Brady in the middle of his victory speech.
A farmer and cabinetmaker. Dunlap stands as a potential juror, but Drummond dismisses him because of his enthusiastic support of Brady.
An employee at the local feed store and a member of the jury. Drummond accepts Sillers as a juror after Sillers tells him that he focuses on making a living while his wife takes care of religious matters for both of them.
The owner of a store across the square from the courthouse. The storekeeper professes not to have convictions about creation because they are not good for business.