Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Inherit the Wind examines stubborn adherence to a set of antiquated but long-held and cherished notions that have, in the course of time, been scientifically disproved. The townsfolk represent what real-life Baltimore reporter H. L. Mencken, of whom Hornbeck is reminiscent, aptly described as the “boobocracy”: Such people are in the majority so, in Hillsboro at least, they rule. Ultimately this majority also wins at the local level. The play concludes before an appeal to the Supreme Court is launched, and the audience is left with the impression that perhaps such an appeal will not be filed. Bertram Cates and his fiancé leave town once the trial is over, perhaps never to return and fight the conviction.
Henry Drummond is less impressed by faith than he is by Truth, with a capital T. He thinks that God, if indeed there is one, has given humans the ability to think, question, analyze, and reason. Religion, as manifested and practiced in Hillsboro, has little to do with a quest for Truth. The townspeople are sheeplike: They accept and venerate the status quo. Not only do they not think deeply but also they do all in their power to thwart those who do. The perfect example of this thwarting is the court’s refusal to permit the testimony of the expert scientific witnesses whom the defense has brought in to attest to the standing of Charles Darwin and his evolutionary theories among scientists. This decision reflects the tenor of the...
(The entire section is 363 words.)
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Individual vs. Machine
Jerome Lawrence said in an interview with Nina Couch that "almost if not all of our plays share the theme of the dignity of every individual mind." The machine in this case is a combination of government and traditional thought, which are allied in Inherit the Wind to serve as adversaries against the right to think freely and exchange—or teach—those thoughts. In the exchange with Brady on the witness stand, Drummond asks the witness if he believes a sponge thinks and if a man has the same privileges that a sponge does. When Brady responds in the affirmative, Drummond raises his voice for the first time and roars that his client "wishes to be accorded the same privileges as a sponge. He wishes to think." Drummond explores this idea further when he offers the supposition that "an un-Brady thought might still be holy." Drummond further illustrates his belief in the dignity of the individual mind after Brady's death when he asserts to Hornbeck that Brady had just as much right to his strict religious views as that the reporter does to his liberal ideals.
God and Religion
The idea of separation of church and state is as old as the American Republic itself, and it continues to be a source of controversy to this day. The central question of the play asks if the government, as represented by the city of Hillsboro and the laws of the state of Tennessee, should make decisions regarding what people can...
(The entire section is 756 words.)