“Inherit the Wind” is a 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. The story is a fictionalized version of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial,” a trial discussing whether evolution should be legal to be taught in American schools.
The title of the novel comes from a Biblical verse Proverbs 11:29 which reads: “He that troubleth his house shall inherit the wind and the fool shall be the servant to the wise of heart.”
The play revolves around a school teacher named Bert Cates who is convicted of teaching evolution to his students in a small southern town. The ensuing trial puts the concepts of free will and Biblical interpretations on trial, creating an argument that is still very relevant today.
After being rejected by eight different Broadway producers, the play originally debuted in Dallas, Texas on January 10th, 1955, garnering positive reviews. It was soon transferred to Broadway and went for 806 performances in a little over two years. It has been revived several times and made into four separate Hollywood films.
Act 1, Scene 1
The play opens outside of the town courthouse in a small southern town called Hillsboro. A twelve-year-old boy named Howard is searching the ground for worms. A girl his age named Melinda approaches and Howard holds out a worm to her. Melinda is disgusted, but Howard tells her that she, herself was once a worm and that her whole family were worms or blobs of jelly. Melinda threatens to tell her father what Howard has said and Howard calls her father a monkey. Melinda runs away.
A woman named Rachel walks up and watches Howard playing with the worms. The bailiff, Meeker comes out of the courthouse and speaks to Rachel. Rachel asks to see Bert Cates and asks Meeker not to tell her father, the town minister that she is there. Meeker says that Cates is a teacher and that he “might improve the writin’ on the walls.”
Inside the courthouse, Rachel gives Cates some clothes from his room at the local boarding house. She talks to him about his crime and reveals that he is accused of teaching evolution at the school. Rachel begs him to tell the police that it was only a joke and that he will never do it again. Cates changes the subject to talk about a famous politician and prosecutor, Matthew Harrison Brady who is coming to town to prosecute Cates.
Rachel tells Cates that there is still time to admit that he was wrong before Brady comes and Cates asks her if she thinks he was wrong. She says that what he did was illegal, but Cates insists that the situation is more complicated than good and evil. Rachel asks why he can’t just do the right thing and Cates wonders if she means doing things her father’s way. Rachel turns to leave, but Cates begs her to come back, and they embrace. Meeker enters with a broom, and the two pull apart. Rachel leaves, and Meeker begins talking to Cates about Brady. Cates tells him that the Baltimore newspaper is sending a lawyer to represent him.
In the next scene, the storekeeper is opening up the local general store for business when a woman named Mrs. Krebs stops to discuss the weather. Reverend Brown, Rachel’s father, enters. Two workmen begin to put up a banner welcoming Brady to the town, and Reverend Brown says that he wants Brady to feel welcome and to know how religious the town is.
A man runs in to say that Brady’s train has arrived. The workman reveal that the banner says “Read Your Bible!” The townspeople gather at the train station and talk about the excitement of the visit. They mention that a flux of new tourists will be coming to town with money to spend. Howard runs through the crowd only to be stopped by his mother and told to straighten his hair. A hill-dwelling Bible seller named Elijah sets up a stand between other people selling lemonade and hot dogs to the tourists.
A newspaper man named E.K. Hornbeck enters, carrying a suitcase and sneering at everything. Several people try to sell him different things, but he sarcastically quips at them. Elijah tries to sell Hornbeck a Bible and, when he declines, asks him if he is an evolutionist or an infidel. Hornbeck says that he is a journalist from Baltimore. Hornbeck spies a monkey dancing for an organ-grinder and sarcastically asks if it has come to testify in the trial. When Melinda gives the monkey a penny, Hornbeck announces that the animals greed is proof that he is the true ancestor of man.
A boy approaches and says that he saw the train coming down the tracks. The townspeople begin singing a hymn as they leave to greet Brady. Left behind, Hornbeck asks the storekeeper why he isn’t rushing off to greet Brady, and the man says that he has to stay behind and mind the store. Hornbeck asks what his opinion is on evolution and the storekeeper says that he doesn’t have an opinion because they are bad for business.
The townspeople return, cheering and singing another hymn. Many of them are carrying anti-evolutionist banners.
Brady enters. An older man, he is clearly basking in the attention and applause from the crowd. He is followed by his wife. The mayor asks him to give a speech and Brady agrees. First, he thanks the town for giving him such a warm welcome. He says that he is going to prosecute Cates for “speaking out against the Revealed Word” and to defend the law which states that evolution is not allowed to be taught in schools. The mayor tries to give a speech of his own, but a photographer was trying to take a picture of Brady and Mrs. Brady interrupts him. Brady asks Reverend Brown to take a picture with him. The mayor skips forward to the last page of his speech and declares Brady, an honorary colonel in the militia.
The local Ladies Aid Club has prepared a buffet lunch for everyone. As Brady begins eating, the district attorney, Tom Davenport introduces himself. He tells Brady that he is eager and happy to be working with him. Mrs. Brady reminds her husband to be careful not to overeat, and he playfully agrees as he piles food onto his plate.
Brady asks about Cates and what type of man he is. Rachel, who is helping out with the buffet, almost involuntarily interjects that Cates is a good man. She tries to hurry away afterward, but Brady urges her to stay and takes her away from the crowd to talk. The barrister asks who the defense attorney will be and Davenport tells him that it hasn’t been announced yet. Someone in the crowd jokes that whoever it is, they won’t stand a chance against Brady and Hornbeck enters to say that he is not so sure about that. He tells them that the Baltimore Herald has sent Henry Drummond, a famous defense attorney. The townspeople are incensed, saying that Drummond is a heathen and citing cases where he defended child murderers and wondering if they can bar him from the town.
Brady and Rachel return and Rachel has a “confused and guilty” look. Mrs. Brady tells her husband about Drummond coming to town. Brady tries to calm the townspeople and insists that they welcome Drummond to town instead of attempting to bar him. He says that now the world will be watching and when they win the trial it will be an even bigger victory Brady says that based off what Rachel has just told him he would be able to convict Cates easily. Brady decides to turn in for the night, going to his suite at the Mansion House. The townspeople follow him.
Rachel goes back to the courthouse, calling out for Meeker and Cates and asking them what she should do. Behind her, Hornbeck speaks up, jokingly offering his services as a counselor. Rachel asks Hornbeck why he is there and he tells her that he is on Cates side. Rachel, who is also a teacher, says that as she teaches 2nd graders, the topic of evolution never comes up and she has not a reason to teach outside of the school’s guidelines.
Rachel argues that Cates must have done something wrong if a great man like Brady came to town to prosecute him. Hornbeck says that Brady only came to town to further his agenda and “find himself a stump to shout from.” Rachel says that Brady is supposed to be a spokesman for ordinary people and Hornbeck says that people can talk for themselves.
Over at the general store. Hornbeck walks by as the storekeeper closes the shop. The organ-grinder is still outside, and Melinda gives the monkey another penny. Henry Drummond enters, hunching forward. As the red light of the sun sets behind him, Melinda mistakenly shouts that he is the devil. Hornbeck sarcastically greets him, “Hello, Devil. Welcome to Hell.”
Act 1, Scene 2
A few days later in the courtroom, the jurors are selected by the prosecution and the defense. A local man named Bannister is interviewed and approved by both sides when he reveals that he has never read about evolution but that he only attends church on Sundays.
Before the next potential juror is brought out, Brady asks the judge if everyone may be allowed to remove their coats, since it is so hot in the room. The judge agrees, and Drummond removes his coat to reveal bright purple suspenders. The crowd reacts, and Brady asks Drummond if the suspenders are the latest fashion in Chicago.
Drummond responds that he bought them in Brady’s hometown in Nebraska. Brady is nettled by this as it earns a laugh from the crowd. The judge calls for order, and a potential juror named Dunlap enters. Dunlap tells Brady that he only believes in God and Brady. The crowd cheers and Brady approves him for the jury. Drummond, however, refuses without interviewing him. Brady objects and Drummond argues that he wouldn’t object if Brady dismissed an evolutionist. Brady objects that Drummond didn’t bother to ask Dunlap any questions. To appease him, Drummond asks Dunlap “How are you?” and Dunlap answers, “Kinda hot.” Drummond refuses him again.
Brady objects to Drummond’s levity, and the judge agrees although he does not uphold the objection. The judge refers to Brady as ‘Colonel Brady’ and Drummond objects to that because he has never heard of Brady serving any military time. The judge tells him that he received the title in an honorary capacity. Drummond argues that this may affect the case and the judge says that he can’t take back the title but that he will temporarily grant Drummond the title of Colonel as well.
The next juror, George Sillers is brought to the stand. Davenport asks Sillers if he is religious and he claims that he is as religious as anyone else in town. Brady asks if he has any opinions that might prejudice him to the case. Siller says that he only knows Cates as a customer at the feed store and Brady accepts him as a juror. Drummond asks Sillers if he works at being religious. Sillers says that his wife mostly handles the families religious matters and that he concentrates on work.
Drummond asks if he has heard of Charles Darwin and Sillers says that he has only recently heard of him because of the trial. Drummond asks if he would have Darwin over for dinner in his house. Both Davenport and Brady object, but Drummond stops them and says that he is only evaluating whether or not Sillers puts equal work into both religion and evolutionary matters. Sillers answers again that he only works at the food store and Drummond approves of him, too.
Brady then tries to retract his approval and argues with Drummond over the jurors. Brady talks about a past case where he says that Drummond tricked the jury into believing that a part of the evidence was all in their minds. Drummond says that he is defending the Constitution and the judge points out that this is not a federal court. Drummond says that he has to do it somewhere.
Fed up, the Judge says that they are both out of order and that the jury selection is done. He reminds the audience that Reverend Brown is holding a prayer meeting. Drummond claims that the reminder is hardly fair and the judge says that he doesn’t have a meeting of evolutionists to remind them of. Drummond says that the “Read Your Bible!” banner should be accompanied by one that says, “Read Your Darwin!” The judge scoffs at the idea and calls a recess.
Rachel approaches Cates and offers wordless support. She suddenly springs on Drummond and begs him to call off the trial, asking Cates to beg the crowd for forgiveness. Drummond asks Cates what he thinks about that. Cates says that the trial is a circus and people are looking at him like he is a murderer. Brady makes a joke and Rachel scolds him for making light of what they are going through. Drummond apologizes and says that he cares about Cates and that begging for forgiveness like that will not get him his respectability back as the town will only see him as a coward.
Drummond asks Cates whether he truly thinks he was wrong and if he did a disservice to the children in his class by teaching them about evolution. Cates admits that he doesn’t think that and that he doesn’t want to quit. Rachel protests and Cates asks her to stick by him anyway. She admits that Brady asked her to testify against Cates. Cates is frightened by this, as he is in a relationship with her and has been discussing evolutionary topics with her for a while. He begs her not to repeat anything that he has said to her. He says that the jury will crucify him if she does.
Rachel asks Drummond if they are going to ask her to testify. Drummond says that they can, but tells her not to be scared of Brady. Rachel says that it’s her father that scares her. She asks if Cates is wicked and Drummond says that he is a good man and maybe even a great one. He says that she is strong to stay on his side even when he is a pariah in the community. He encourages Rachel to keep supporting Cates.
Act 2, Scene 1
Outside the courthouse, two workmen look up at the “Read Your Bible!” banner and wonder what to do about it. One says that they should leave it up as the devil doesn’t run the town. Brady enters followed by a gaggle of reporters including Hornbeck. A reporter asks Brady what he thinks about Drummond, and he admits that they used to be friends and that Drummond supported his presidential campaign in 1908. But, he adds that even if his brother were “challenging the faith of millions” as Drummond is doing that he would be opposing him.
Brady dismisses the reporters and then turns to Hornbeck. He tells Hornbeck that he has been sent some of his articles and Hornbeck responds sarcastically. Brady says that Hornbeck’s reporting is biased and Hornbeck says that it’s supposed to be because he is a critic and not objective. Brady asks him to stay for the Reverend’s prayer meeting, and Hornbeck says that he doesn’t intend to miss it. Reverend Brown arrives escorting Mrs. Brady who dabs sweat off of her husband’s neck. The Reverend begins the prayer meeting and works for the crowd up into a lather with his recitations from the Bible.
The Reverend asks if the crowd if they curse the man who denies the story of Genesis and points to the jail where Cates is being held. Rachel begins to shake from anger at the display. The Reverend continues by asking God to bring hellfire down on Cates and comparing him to the pharaohs.
Rachel rushes to the platform to beg her father to stop, and Reverend Brown calls to the Lord to punish people who side with Cates as well.
Brady grasps the Reverend’s Brown and warns him that he is a bit overzealous, he suggests that the man tries not to “destroy that which you hope to save.”
Brady reminds the crowd that the Bible preaches forgiveness before dismissing them. After the crowd disperses, Brady goes over to Drummond and reminds him of their friendship. He asks what happened between them. Drummond replies, “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away – by standing still.” Brady is surprised and walks away leaving Drummond standing alone.
Act 2, Scene 2
Two days later the trial has begun. 12-year-old Howard is called to the witness stand. Howard, who is one of Cates’ students, tells Brady about the class where the scientific theory was taught. Brady asks if Cates ever mentioned God in his classes and Howard says that he did not. Brady makes a speech calling evolutionists “Evil-lutionists” and “brewers of poison, ” and the crowd applauds.
Drummond questions Howard next and asks what he thought of the theory that Cates taught him, however Davenport objects. Drummond restates the question, asking if the theory has harmed him in any way. Brady objects to this, nd the judge sustains it. Drummond finally asks if Howard believes the theory and Howard says he isn’t sure. The defense asks Howard if he thinks things like tractors and telephones are evil because the Bible does not mention them. Brady objects that he is confusing the witness. Drummond makes a speech where he says that the truth has meaning as a direction. He says that “right” and “wrong” are not black and white and the meaning can change.
Drummond asks Howard if he understands this discussion and Howard says that he doesn’t. Drummond dismisses him. Rachel is called to the stand and Brady asks her how she knows Cates and about Cate’s religion. Rachel answers that Cates stopped attending church after a local boy drowned in the river while he was swimming.
At the funeral, The Reverend said that the boy would not be saved because he wasn’t baptized. Cates shouts that her father actually said that the boy would burn in hell. From the audience, Dunlap calls Cates a sinner. The judge calls the room to order as Cates shouts that religious should provide comfort for people and not fear. Drummond requests that Cates statements be stricken from the record and the judge agrees.
Brady asks Rachel again about Cates religious views and about private conversations that the two have had about religion. Brady quotes Cates says that man created God and that human marriages are like animals breeding and Rachel argues that Cates was only joking and is being mis-quoted. Rachel goes silent and gets dismissed from the stand.
Drummond attempts to call three scientists to the stand but is denied. He asks the judge if he would admit testimony on the Bible and calls Brady to the stand. The judge is surprised by the odd request but allows it and Brady agrees to take the stand. Drummond asks Brady about his familiarity with Darwin and Brady confesses that he has never read any of his works. Drummond asks how he can dismiss them without reading them but the judge orders him to confine his questions to ones about the Bible. Drummond asks if Brady thinks that every word in the Bible should be taken literally and Brady agrees that they should. Drummond references several more fantastical stories in the Bible and asks if Brady thinks these are strictly true. Brady says that God is capable of miracles.
Brady says that Drummond is demonstrating his contempt for Biblical stories and playing right into their hands. Drummond argues that the new knowledge of the world that Darwin has brought beg that people realize that the Bible should not be taken strictly literally. Drummond argues that Cates only wants to right to think – the God given right. For the first time the crowd applauds him.
Drummond asks one of the scientists that he called for a rock and shows it to Brady. He asks Brady how old he thinks the rock is. Brady says that Biblical scientists have determined that the earth is now more than six thousand years old and therefore the rock can only be that old. Drummond says that the rock is claimed to be ten million years old. He asks if the day of creation can even be considered a day, since days did not exist until after it was done. Drummond suggests that the first ‘day’ of creation may have actually been ten millions years long.
At this the crowd begins chattering and the judge calls for order. Brady says that Drummond is only trying to tear down people’s faith. Drummond says that the Bible is still a good book but that people have to change their perceptions of it somewhat and that it isn’t the end of all human knowledge.
Drummond wonders why they should assume that Darwin wasn’t speaking to God as well as the Bible’s authors. Brady argues that God told him that he didn’t speak to Darwin and Brady mocks him.
Brady gets exasperated and argues that every man has free will. Drummond asks why Cates is in jail if free will is allowed. Brady begins quoting the Bible and raving and Drummond mocks him while the crowd laughs. Drummond dismisses Brady but Brady does not want to leave and continues to talk and rant. The judge instructs Brady to step down and calls for a recess until the next day. Davenport begs the judge to strike Brady’s testimony from the court record and Brady collapses into his chair, still babbling while his wife comforts him.
The next day the crowd waits for the jury’s verdict in the courtroom. Hornbeck enters and bows to Brady in a mocking salute. Cates asks Drummond what he thinks is going to happen and Drummond tells him a story of a golden rocking horse that wanted but that broke the first time he rode it as a child. The jury comes back and pronounce Cates guilty. The judge starts to sentence him but Drummond interrupts him and announces that the defendant has a right to make a statement before he is sentenced. Cates makes a speech, calling the law unjust and vowing to oppose it.
The judge announces that Cates sentence is a fine of $100. Brady demands a harsher sentence. Brady demands to read a statement of his own but Drummond objects. The judge tells Brady to read his statement after the court is adjourned. However, after he adjourns the court it becomes chaotic with people leaving and food vendors. The judge tries to get people’s attention to listen to Brady’s speech but people start to leave the courtroom. A TV reporter filming the case interrupts and tells Brady that their time is up, removing his microphone. Brady tries to resume afterward but suddenly freezes up and collapses.
While Brady is being carried out of the courtroom he begins to recite a victory speech for a presidential election, deliriously. Hornbeck makes a sarcastic speech about failed political candidates. A confused Cates asks Drummond if he won the case. Drummond tells him that he won a moral victory through national attention. Cates starts to go with Meeker to return to jail but Meeker tells him that Hornbeck and the Baltimore Herald have posted his bail.
Rachel enters with a suitcase and tells Cates that she is leaving her father’s house. She gives him back a copy of his Darwin book and says that she tried to read it but didn’t understand it. She tells Drummond that she used to be scared of thinking but that the idea that a thought might be bad shouldn’t prevent someone from thinking it.
The judge returns and tells them that Brady has died. Drummond is saddened but Hornbeck does another sarcastic speech. Drummond scolds him and argues that Brady wasn’t all bad. Hornbeck tells Drummond that he is too sentimental and that Brady will be forgotten. Cates asks how much an appeal in higher court will cost and Drummond tells him that the cost doesn’t matter and that he will do it pro bono. Cates and Rachel rush to catch a train and accidentally leave Cates’ Darwin book. Drummond picks it and a copy of the Bible up in each hand and pretends to balance them like a scale. He then puts them in his briefcase and walks out of the courtroom.
Henry Drummond – the defense attorney assigned to Cates case by the Baltimore Herald. Drummond is tasked with arguing a case for Cates based off of his God-given right to free will and free thought against a town that is set against listening to him from the beginning. Drummond tells Cates at the end that he intends to wave his fee, announcing that he didn’t take the case for the money but in order to garner national attention toward the case.
Drummond seems to agree with Cates and the idea of evolution as a whole although he never explicitly states this in the court case and instead argues that God has given the information about evolution to man. Drummond is also interested in the case because it involves defending against his old friend, Brady. He and Brady seem to have a history based off of a failed friendship that ended because Brady refused to see progress and move forward. In the end, Drummond does lose the case although he maintains that they won the moral victory.
Matthew Harrison Brady – the prosecutor for the state against Cates. Brady is a pompous, former politician who has run been through three failed presidential campaigns. Brady is a highly religious man who runs his platform based off of total submission and belief in God. In the beginning of the play he is seen as a hero in the town for his upholding of Christian values.
However, although Brady’s beliefs are shown to be hard and fast, he does stop Reverend Brown from preaching about Cates burning in hellfire and suggests that they all embrace forgiveness of Cates, a move that provides some complexity to Brady’s character.
He is also shown to be in poor health from the beginning by his wife’s constant monitoring and is later proven to be truly ill when he collapses after winning the trial but losing the hero worship of the court. As he is wheeled away, Brady recites a victory speech for a presidential race, a move that shows that his failed political campaigns clearly still weigh on him a great deal up until the end.
Bert Cates – the teacher accused of teaching evolution. Cates is a mild-mannered, quiet man who is not a “criminal type” as his jailer, Mr. Meeker points out. Cates is a scholar and is only guilty of trying to spread information that he feels is valuable and stimulate his students minds. Although Cates doubts himself he does insist on going through with the trial and standing up for what he believes in and questions whether Drummond will appeal to a higher court after it is over. Cates does, however, encourage Rachel to lie when she is questioned about their private conversations, a move that can probably be excused given the fear he was experiencing at the time.
During the trial, is is revealed that Cates stopped going to church after a local boy drowned in the river and Reverend Brown insisted that the boy would go to hell for not being baptized.
Rachel Brown – the main female character of the play. Rachel is torn between two worlds, her lover Cates and her Reverend father. Although not much time is spent on Rachel’s scenes, she does perhaps more developing as a character than anyone else, going from a meek woman who isn’t sure who she should side with to a more independent woman who goes with her heart and leaves her father’s house. For most of the play, however, Rachel seems to not be capable of looking at the bigger picture, insisting that if Cates pronounces himself guilty and apologizes he will be forgiven by the town.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Biography
Jerome Lawrence was born on July 14th, 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio. The son of a publisher and a poet, he attended Ohio State University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1937. After college, Lawrence began working for small newspapers as a reporter before beginning a career in radio, writing for CBS.
Robert E. Lee was born on October 15th, 1918 in Elyria, Ohio to a teacher and an engineer. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University.
During World War II, both Lawrence and his writing partner, Robert E. Lee working for the Armed Forces Radio. Together, Lee and Lawrence began a prolific radio-writing partnership that lasted several years until they eventually began writing live theater.
In 1955, their first project, “Inherit the Wind” saw great success and remains a classic to this day. They also created the play “Auntie Mame.”
In 1965 they created the American Playwrights’ Theater, in order to give another option to playwrights that precluded the overly commercial Broadway theater. They created several very successful plays for the Playwrights Theater including, “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail” (1969) a play that explores resistance to the war during the Vietnam-era and “Jabberwock” (1972) a play about the author James Thurber.
Altogether, the men wrote and produced 39 plays, radio shows and musicals and won a Tony Award for the musical adaptation of “Auntie Mame”.
Lee died on July 8th, 1994 at the age of 75 and was survived by his wife, the voice actress Janet Waldo and children. He is currently buried in Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
Lawrence taught playwrighting at the University of Southern California for several years. He later died due to complications from a stroke at the age of 88 on February 29th, 2004. He was survived by his partner of 15 years Will Willoughby.
The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theater Research Institute was dedicated to both men at Ohio State University in 1986.