This first courtroom scene highlights important differences between Brady and Drummond—in background, perspective, manners, and behavior—that recur in their interactions throughout the play. They serve as foils to each other, as each accentuates the distinct traits of the other. While Inherit the Wind as a whole explores an abstract conflict between religious fundamentalism and freedom of thought, the face-to-face conflict between the forceful personalities of Brady and Drummond lends this conflict a physical embodiment. Because the trial, in part, depends on the mood of the town and the opinions of its residents, each attorney attempts to win the audience’s respect, recognizing that the crowd will influence the judge and jury.
Brady tries to alienate Drummond from the courtroom crowd by harping on Drummond’s suspenders, attempting to cast him as a freak from the big city. But Drummond’s fashion choice proves to be premeditated, for he turns the tables on Brady by telling the crowd he bought the suspenders in Brady’s Nebraska hometown. This unexpected twist marks Brady’s first moment of embarrassment before a crowd that is predisposed to support him. Drummond continues to use this strategy—turning Brady’s own words and attitudes against him—to humorous and ironic effect throughout the trial.
Brady enters the trial with a distinct advantage. Reputed for his fundamentalist Christian principles, he receives a warm welcome from the townspeople and an honorary title from the mayor. Although Drummond argues that this title lends the prosecution an unfair symbolic advantage, his objection is laced with irony and humor. Whereas Brady clearly enjoys the meaningless distinction and celebrates it with a swollen sense of self-importance, Drummond chuckles when the judge reluctantly grants him a similar title. To Drummond, titles hold little significance in comparison to the reality of action and deed. Brady, however, leans on these titles for a sense of moral authority. Drummond’s ironic appropriation of Brady’s title is the second step in his humiliation of his opponent.
Drummond opposes the “commercial announcement” of the prayer meeting and the public signs commanding people to read their Bibles. Although this approach initially strikes the judge and the townspeople as preposterous, Drummond’s complaints ultimately make the townspeople reconsider the differences between secular Darwinism and officially endorsed Christianity. Although Drummond does not mention it explicitly, he points to one of the founding principles of American democracy—the separation of church and state. By demanding fair treatment for evolution theory under the law, Drummond plants in his listeners’ minds the idea that Christian authorities may not have a monopoly on the truth. He reemphasizes this point later in the trial by demonstrating the Bible’s inability to explain modern machinery.
After casting Drummond as the devil incarnate, Brady leaves the courtroom with tremendous public support. Brady departs like a “shepherd leading his flock” while Drummond leaves alone. But Drummond’s solitude does not faze him. Although he is vilified before the public, he remains confident in his convictions because he values his own search for truth over the opinions of the crowd. In contrast, Brady’s reliance on public support foreshadows his later collapse after his humiliation before the courtroom audience.
The scene closes with Rachel’s description of her relationship with her father, which provides insight into her fear for Cates and her efforts to convince him to confess his guilt. Rachel’s fear of her father originated in her early childhood and still runs deep. Given Reverend Brown’s position of authority in the community, Rachel has never been able to overcome her fear. Caught between the bond of family that dictates loyalty to her father and the budding love that pulls her toward Cates and his cause, Rachel suffers from fear and confusion. Her confession of fear of her father foreshadows his public disowning and damning of her in the next scene.