Inherit the Wind: Novel Summary: Act I, Scene 2

Summary: A few days later, the courtroom is packed with Hillsboro residents eager to witness Cates trial. As the scene begins, jury selection is underway. Even before the trial proper has begun, the attorneys are jockeying to score points off of each other: for example, when the Judge grants permission for participants to remove their coats due to the extreme heat in the courtroom, Brady mocks Drummonds “wide, bright purple suspenders,” asking if they represent the latest fashion in Chicago. Drummond informs Brady that he bought the suspenders in Bradys hometown. Additionally, Drummond objects to the fact that the Judge and potential jurors are continually addressing Brady by the honorary rank of “colonel” (given to him in the previous scene). Drummond believes the use of the title prejudices the proceedings against Cates. Under pressure to resolve the issue somehow, the Mayor makes Drummond a temporary honorary colonel. 
The examination of potential juror George Sillers provokes a confrontation when Drummond, in his questioning, establishes that Mr. Sillers apparently has no strong opinions regarding either religion or evolution. Upon hearing this, Brady, who had already accepted Sillers for the jury, attempts to retract; Drummond calls Bradys move out of order and accuses Brady of wanting a jury made up entirely of conformists: “What do you want to do-run them through a meat-grinder, so they all come out the same?” Brady responds by accusing Drummond of “tricking” and confusing juries in order to win cases. The Judge rules that the jury has been selected and calls for a recess; immediately after, he announces a prayer meeting that the Rev. Brown has organized. Drummond objects to the courts “commercial announcement,” to no avail. The court stands in recess. Many spectators clamor around Brady for his autograph, while Drummond packs his briefcase in solitude.
Rachel, however, rushes to Drummond to ask him to put a stop to the trial: “Bert knows he did wrong. He didnt mean to. And hes sorry.” Drummond asks Bert if he wants to quit. Bert admits that he feels ostracized and vilified: “People look at me as if I was a murderer. People I thought were my friends look at me now as if I had horns growing out of my head.” Drummond empathizes with Berts sense of isolation, and agrees to change the plea to guilty-but only if Bert really believes he has committed a crime. He asks Bert, “You want to find yourself guilty before the jury does?” Bert does not.
Rachel responds with tears. She informs Bert and Drummond that Brady has asked her to testify for the prosecution. Bert is aghast at the thought that Rachel may be forced to share some of their private conversations: “I was just asking questions,” he says. Drummond admits that Rachel could be forced to testify, but he advises her not to be intimidated by Brady, for Brady “only seems to be bigger than the law.” Rachel confesses that she is more scared of her father, the Rev. Brown.
Analysis: A fierce championing of the individuals right to resist conformity motivates Drummond. Note that, in response to Drummonds apparently cavalier attitude toward the case, Rachel accuses him of not being interested in Bert; but Drummond replies that, on the contrary, he “care[s] a great deal about what Bert thinks.” Drummond sees the case as a fight to protect the right to think, a defense of the human privilege to ask questions-just as Bert says he was doing in his private conversations with Rachel: “The words Ive said. just trying to figure out what the stars are for, or what might be on the back side of the moon.” In fact, it is not overstating the case to conclude that Drummond views the trial as a trial of human beings imaginative faculty: to speculate, to dream, free of outside and often oppressive authorities, be they the Bible or Darwin, religion or government. And, as he states as the scene closes, he is also defending a right to ignorance: a right to say “I dont know,” a right to conclude that not all questions have been definitively answered-for only if that is case can human knowledge continue to grow.
Note: The definition of the now obscure word “venireman” is a member of the panel from which a jury is drawn.