Rachel comes in with a suitcase and says she is leaving her father. She hands Cates a book of his and tells him that she read it but didn’t understand it. Rachel apologizes to Drummond and says that she always used to be scared of thinking. She concludes that the possibility of thoughts being bad shouldn’t prevent people from thinking them.
Suddenly, the judge enters and announces that Brady has died of a “busted belly.” Drummond reacts with sadness, but Hornbeck unleashes a sarcastic tirade against Brady, calling him a “Barnum-bunkum Bible-beating bastard.” Drummond scolds Hornbeck for deriding Brady’s religion, and the two argue about Brady’s merits. Drummond calls Brady great, while Hornbeck accuses Drummond of undue sentimentality and predicts that Brady will be forgotten. Hornbeck leaves.
Cates asks Drummond how much an appeal will cost, but Drummond dismisses the issue of cost. In their rush to leave for the train, Rachel and Cates leave behind Cates’s copy of Darwin—the book she returned to him. Drummond picks up the copy of Darwin and also picks up the court’s copy of the Bible. He holds one in each hand and pretends to balance them like a scale. He then puts both books in his briefcase and walks out of the courtroom and away across the square.
You see, I haven’t really thought very much. I was always afraid of what I might think—so it seemed safer not to think at all. But now I know. A thought is like a child inside our body. It has to be born. If it dies inside you, part of you dies too!See Important Quotations Explained
Early in the play’s final scene, as Cates and Drummond discuss the trial, Drummond recounts his childhood love for a rocking horse called “Golden Dancer.” Drummond uses the story to warn Cates that shiny appearances may obscure hidden problems and truths. He advises Cates to seek out and expose the truth in any way he can, as a service both to himself and to the public. This lesson relates to Drummond’s own personal and professional experiences in searching for the truth as a lawyer. The story also sheds light on Drummond’s understated, self-reliant style in the courtroom. Brady, meanwhile, uses an elaborate and showy style of oration that Drummond likens to the rocking horse—it has an appealing exterior but little substance. To Drummond, anyone in search of truth can see beyond Brady’s flashy but insubstantial words.
Rachel’s development, which is constant throughout the play, becomes complete in the last scene. Although many townspeople open their minds to new ideas during the trial, the playwrights allow us an especially intimate look at Rachel’s psychological development. In Rachel, we see the process by which an individual sheds values that have been forced upon her and begins to rely on her own intellect. Of all the characters, Rachel undergoes the most profound personal transformation over the course of the play, ultimately opening her heart to Cates and her mind to new ideas. Her father’s status as the religious leader of Hillsboro and her conflicting love for the outcast Cates place Rachel in a painful position. These opposing forces in her life provide an opportunity for growth. At the beginning of the trial, Rachel, longing for a return to “normalcy,” urges Cates to admit his guilt. After the trial, however, Rachel abandons her father. This decision demonstrates her full maturity into womanhood, her breaking free from a painful part of her life, and her newfound identification with Cates’s cause—freedom of thought and action.
The last few moments of the play, in which Drummond weighs the Bible in one hand against On the Origin of Species in the other, carry symbolic significance. During the trial, Drummond has fought for the individual’s right to think outside the boundaries prescribed by organized religion. An agnostic, uncertain about the nature and existence of God, Drummond does not demonstrate a strong allegiance to religion. On the other hand, however, he does not seem to embrace evolution wholeheartedly either. Drummond advocates for the individual’s right to make up his own mind—or for the right to postpone that choosing. He balances the two books in his hands, as if on scales. This act, which alludes to the scales of justice, represents Drummond’s belief that each book has equal worth. As he “half-smiles, half-shrugs” upon exiting the courtroom, he contemplates whether his efforts in Cates’s trial have furthered justice.