How does Inherit the Wind speak to the struggle of the individual vs larger society? What message does it contain about the power of the individual to change society?

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the movie and play, Inherit the Wind, certainly, one individual is portrayed as taking on society's unsupported beliefs on evolution, and there is a certain "triumph" for the individual. However, it is important to understand that this story, while it is based upon actual events, is a fictionalized account of those events, and there is some important information not really emphasized enough. 

Scopes did stand trial for his teaching of evolution. But he did not stand alone.  There was an interest in attacking the law that prohibited the teaching of evolution, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) advertised for someone willing to stand trial in a test case.  The town fathers were also interested in a test case taking place in their town because they believed the trial would bring people and publicity to their town.  This background information about the real case is important to understand because quite often, the individual versus society loses without some help. 

There are probably better examples of the individual prevailing against society, for example, Christ, Ghandi, Semmelweis, or Martin Luther King, Jr. But even in those examples, the "victory" over society was not achieved without the support of others. This does not mean that an individual cannot ever prevail against society on his or her own, but in most cases, an individual begins a movement against society that is then taken up by others. 

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Inherit the Wind

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