How do the main characters evolve in Inherit the Wind?

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The main characters in Inherit the Wind change in various ways: Bert Cates holds fast to his principles but learns the cost of them; Rachel Brown discovers freedom; Matthew Harrison Brady ends up dead; and Henry Drummond has learned an important lesson about having an open mind.

Bert Cates is a schoolteacher who has presented Darwin's theory of evolution to his students and thereby raised an uproar in his town. He is actually a mild-mannered fellow who doesn't change all that much throughout the play. He is in jail during most of it, but he is, at one point, offered a way out of the whole mess. If he will just plead guilty, he can get on with his life. Cates chooses not to do so. He will stick with his principles and is eventually found guilty but only lightly fined. Still, Cates has learned that there is a cost to one's convictions that is higher than a fine. Even so, as Drummond tells him, he “helped the next fella” even if his life will be difficult for a while.

Rachel Brown is the daughter of a fundamentalist preacher who curses anyone who doesn't agree with him. She has long been under her father's thumb, and she has always been scared of him. Yet Rachel strikes out on her own to support Cates, and in the end, she leaves town with him, discovering freedom for herself. She has learned, she says, that “ideas have to come out” and be considered. They will live or die according to their merits.

Matthew Harrison Brady begins the play as a hero. He is determined to win the day for the prosecution. He leaves the courtroom a broken man who has been forced to think critically about his own ideas, perhaps for the first time. He wins the case but loses his mind in the process, literally having a nervous breakdown because his mind is not flexible enough to deal with new ideas and challenges. He dies at the end of the play, and as Hornbeck implies, will be largely forgotten for all his desire for fame.

Henry Drummond, Bert Cates's defense attorney, begins the play as a confirmed atheist and ends quoting the Bible: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart” (Proverbs 11:29). Drummond has learned important lessons about having an open mind to truth wherever it may be found, and he actually leaves the courtroom with a copy of Darwin and a copy of the Bible in his briefcase.

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