Howard: What’re yuh skeered of? You was a worm once!
Melinda: (Shocked) I wasn’t neither.
Howard: You was so! When the whole world was covered with water, there was nothin’ but worms and blobs of jelly. And you and your whole family was worms!

A play intimately concerned with the nature of education, Inherit the Wind begins with an appropriate image of two young, inarticulate children discussing a controversial modern theory. Their argument is a miniature form of the play’s central conflicts: creationism versus evolutionism and religious orthodoxy versus freedom of thought. Melinda reacts to Howard in the same way that most of the people of Hillsboro react to Bert Cates—she becomes frightened and calls him sinful. Although Howard’s grip on evolutionary theory is rudimentary at best, the new ideas to which Cates has exposed him clearly excite Howard. Howard’s pronouncements humorously equate humans—specifically Melinda and her family—with monkeys and worms. His disrespect for Melinda’s father points to the threat these ideas pose to the social order of a town like Hillsboro.