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

 Summary: Two days later, the trial is in progress. At rise, Brady is examining Howard (the young teen who teased Melinda with a worm in Act I, Scene 1). Howard, with many leading questions from Brady, summarizes Cates teaching of evolution. He confirms that Cates did not make reference to God or Genesis. Brady uses this fact to paint evil-utionists as “Bible-haters” and “brewers of poison.” He melodramatically calls upon the jury to protect such innocent young as Howard from moral confusion. In response, Drummond asks Howard if he thinks Cates did anything wrong in reading from Darwins book to the class. When Davenport objects, Drummond responds that he is defending an individuals right to think. He asks Howard if Howard thinks that all the “fuss and feathers about Evolution” has hurt him any. Howard says he does not know-“I gotta think it over.” That is exactly the response for which Drummond had been hoping.
The response, however, angers Brady: “Why do you bewilder this child? Does Right have no meaning to you, sir?” Somewhat unexpectedly, and fully realizing it may prejudice his case, Drummond states that it does not; rather, Truth has meaning-as a direction.
Davenport next calls Rachel to the stand, where she testifies that Bert has not attended church in two years, since the funeral of Tommy Stebbins. Stebbins was an eleven-year-old who drowned. He had been friends with Bert, and was considering a career in science. At the funeral, the Rev. Brown preached that, because he had not been baptized, Stebbins had not died in a state of grace; according to Cates, who interrupts Rachels testimony (the audience is supposed to accept Cates account of the service), the Rev. Brown said that the little boy “was damned, writhing in hellfire.” Cates angrily asks the court, “Religions supposed to comfort people, isnt it? Not frighten them to death!”
Once order has been restored, Brady instructs Rachel to continue talking about Cates religious views. Although Drummond objects to this testimony as hearsay, the Judge allows the line of questioning to continue. Brady thus prompts Rachel into repeating things which she had told him in confidence, including Cates remark, “God did not create Man! Man created God!” Rachel clarifies that Cates was only joking, that he had actually said, “God created Man in His own image-and Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.” Only the urbane Hornbeck, however, finds the joke amusing; its negative effect on the court is electric, and Rachel is too shocked to continue testifying against the man she loves. Rachel is excused-despite Drummonds objection that he has had no chance to challenge Bradys statements.
The prosecution rests, and the Judge calls on Drummond to begin the case for the defense. Drummond has arranged for fifteen noted scientists, some of whom are faithful churchgoers, to testify. Upon Bradys objections, however, the Judge denies all of them the chance, accepting Bradys argument that “this zoo-ological hogwash” is excluded on the basis of the very law that Cates has broken. Clearly frustrated by such illogical thinking, Drummond asks if the court, having denied any expert testimony on Darwins book, will allow expert testimony on the Bible. The Judge agrees, and Drummond, in an unexpected move, calls Brady to the stand.
In the most celebrated sequence of the play, Drummond proceeds to lead Brady down a line of questioning that exposes the limitations and ultimate absurdity of a literal reading of Genesis (for example, having no answer to the old question, “Where did Cains wife come from?” It also reveals, in Bradys words, something that is holy to the celebrated agnostic the individual human minds right to think. He asks, “Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty which lifts man above all other creatures on the earth: the power of his brain to reason.” Drummond further accuses Brady of trying to force his opinion on the rest of society.
Throughout this examination, both lawyers can feel the sympathies of the crowd shifting away from Brady toward Drummond, and Drummond knows the shift is complete when he maneuvers Brady into admitting “it is possible” that days recorded in Genesis 1 were not literal, twenty-four hour days (since, as the Bible says, the Sun was not created until after the first day). He asks Brady how Brady knows, with absolute certainty, that God did not “spake” to Charles Darwin as God “spake” to the authors of Scripture. He even presents Brady as truly teaching that to be against him (that is, Brady) is to be against God. Brady is perplexed and is, in the end, reduced to defiantly reciting the Bibles table of contents, even after Drummond excuses him, even after the Judge dismisses the court for the day. Mrs. Brady seeks to comfort her distraught husband as the curtain falls.
Analysis: “With all respect to the bench,” Drummond declares early on in this scene, “I hold that the right to think is very much on trial!” This line, perhaps more than any other, summarizes the thesis Lawrence and Lee develop throughout their script. While the lines relevance to the immediate subject matter of the play is apparent, it may also bolster some audiences contention that Lawrence and Lee have written a parable about the era of McCarthyism. “Through widely publicized hearings, the use of unidentified informers, and reckless accusation, [Senator Joseph] McCarthy doggedly pursued those whom he classified as Communists and subversives. Careers were ruined on the flimsiest evidence, and his methods came under increasing attack by the press and his colleagues,” leading to his eventual censure by the Senate in 1954 and his subsequent diminishment of influence (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). McCarthy was able to wield power for as long as he did, however, because he preyed not only on the anti-Communist fear of the 1950s (which sometimes shaded into hysteria; witness the thinly veiled anti-Communist allegories of many “space invader” and “body snatcher” movies of the era) but also on the idea that free thinkers were dangerous. True Americans, after all, adhered to one ideology, while loyal Communists adhered to another. Given the playwrights context, then, it is understandable why some have seen Inherit the Wind as an inherent critique of McCarthy-like “witch hunts” in which the freedom to think for oneself is threatened, curtailed, or denied altogether. (Incidentally, Drummonds rhetorical question to Cates later, in Act III-“You dont suppose this kind of thing is ever finished, do you?”-may stand as one of the other few pieces of internal textual evidence that Lawrence and Lee intended their recasting of the Scopes Trial as a cautionary parable about McCarthyism.)
In stating that Truth rather than Right matters, Drummond is arguing that morality must be consonant with experienced reality. He is suggesting that, rather than labeling behavior “right” or “wrong”, people should concern themselves with discerning truth from falsehood. And when he later tells Brady, “Its sad that we arent all gifted with your positive knowledge of Right and Wrong,” he is making the case that preconceived notions of morality necessarily limit the scope of human inquiry, and therefore foreclose possible advances to human knowledge. Readers may call to mind, for example, recent controversies over human stem cell research: advocates of the science argue that huge advances against currently incurable diseases could be made, while critics argue that such research is inherently wrong and must not be pursued, or pursued in very limited ways only. What Drummond does not address is the question of whether right and truth bear any inherent relationship to each other, and critical readers may wish to struggle with that question in their response to the drama.
Readers may also feel justified in questioning the degree to which Bradys faith a straw man that Lawrence and Lee have established solely for the purpose of having Drummond knock it down. As students of the historical Scopes Monkey Trial have pointed out, even William Jennings Bryan had read the theories of Darwin. Even while disagreeing with Darwins conclusions, Bryan-whom very view scholars utterly dismiss as a fool-knew Darwin was a man with whom all intellectuals would have to reckon. He would never have been content with Bradys flip statement, “I am not in the least interested in the pagan hypotheses of [Darwins] book.” Of course, as noted above, Brady is not, if we are to take the playwrights at their word, William Jennings Bryan. He is a cipher-a symbol for a fervently felt and sincerely believed faith, but a faith that is intellectually bankrupt. Very few of even the most fundamental Christians today would assert, as Brady does, that, for example, the miracle of Joshuas making the sun stand still must be accepted at face value; and Bradys equation of sexual intercourse with original sin betrays a basic misunderstanding of classic Christian theology (which holds that original sin is transmitted genetically through intercourse, but not that intercourse in an of itself is sinful). Lawrence and Lee gift Drummond with eloquent words in defense of the right and duty to think; sadly, to some readers minds, Drummond is not pitted against a worthy opponent: not an opponent who can defend the kind of faith typified by the Rev. Brown or Brady-for such a narrow-minded, overly literalistic faith cannot be rationally defended, as Drummond makes clear-but an opponent who could express and uphold a recognizable distinction between questions that science can answer and questions that only religion can address. Pointing out the logical flaws in Bradys theology is no difficult task, and seems ultimately unworthy of the kind of hero the playwrights clearly intend for Drummond to be. Drummonds work in the Hillsboro case is, at its heart, destructive rather than constructive. It serves a worthy iconoclastic purpose, and it is enough for Drummonds-and the playwrights-goal; but it does not give viewers or readers of the play any fodder for constructing a new approach to the plays central question of science and faith. Whether this is a missed opportunity or simply outside the aims of the drama, audiences must decide for themselves.