Inherit the Wind: Essay Q&A
1. Both Lawrence and Lee's Inherit the Wind with Arthur Miller's The Crucible are frequently interpreted as parables of the anti-Communist frenzy of McCarthyism. Compare and contrast the two dramas, assessing the evidence each play gives that either supports or detracts from such an interpretation. Why do Lawrence and Lee and Miller look to America's past to communicate messages about their own context?
>Both Inherit the Wind and The Crucible depict their historical inspirations-the Scopes Monkey Trial and the Salem Witch Trials, respectively-in ways that mirror the 1950s McCarthy anti-Communist hearings. For example, some of Salem's citizens in Miller's Crucible are pressured to "name names" of supposed witches, just as witnesses who testified before Sen. McCarthy's committee were pressured to "name names" of Communists, and John Proctor, the protagonist of Miller's play, goes to his death rather than sign his name to a declaration that he is guilty of witchcraft. Similarly, some of the witnesses in the Hillsboro courtroom-young Howard for one, Rachel Brown for another-are pressured by Brady to reveal information about Cates that could damage his reputation (for instance, Rachel is pressured to reveal Cates' reaction to the sermon at Tommy Stebbins' funeral), and Cates himself, not unlike Proctor, is worried about his name, but ultimately believes he is innocent. Both plays illustrate the manipulation of religion to divide people from each other (the courts in Salem act in the name of God no less than the supposedly more civilized court in Hillsboro, at which the Judge feels free to advertise the Rev. Brown's prayer meeting). Furthermore, both plays depict the unthinking ways in which panic and fear can prey on populations; the citizens of Lawrence and Lee's Hillsboro are less violent than their counterparts in Miller's Salem, to be sure, but parallels exist (for example, Brady's use of Howard's testimony to appeal to the citizens' fear that what Cates has taught will undermine civic and personal morality). Both plays make points about their authors' present by reaching for source material from the past to drive home the point that, while external circumstances will differ, the internal human dynamics will not; as Drummond asks Cates in Act III, "You don't suppose this kind of thing is ever finished, do you?"
2. Interpret the title of the play. How is it applicable to the characters and subject matter? Why might Lawrence and Lee have chosen it as the title? What is ironic about its use?
As noted in this study guide, the title of the play is drawn from Proverbs 11:29: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart" (KJV). It occurs twice in the script: first, Brady uses it to admonish the Rev. Brown when he zealously prays condemnation on his daughter, who has urged compassion for Cates. Brady seems to be telling the Rev. Brown that such a prayer is "troubling his own house" and cannot result in good; it is, therefore, an appeal for moderation of the Rev. Brown's zeal at this point. Significantly, only the first half of the verse appears at this juncture. In Act III, however, Drummond recites the entire verse as a kind of "eulogistic" summing up of the late Brady's life when Hornbeck suggests that, by quoting it earlier, Brady had written his own obituary. In this instance, Brady would be foolish by troubling the "house" of the nation in his crusade against Darwinism. Brady, in death, has "inherited the wind"-that is, received nothing-because he has rejected the truth in favor of falsehood (the "pleasant poetry of Genesis," Act II, Sc. 2). Lawrence and Lee may have chosen this title because it points to what is, in their eyes, the futility of resisting progress and the power of the human mind; those who embrace these things, however, stand vindicated as "the wise of heart." It is an ironic title because, after all, it is drawn from the Bible-what Hornbeck savagely calls "his book," meaning Brady's (Act III)-the book that is ostensibly under attack throughout the Hillsboro trial. In drawing a title from it, however, the playwrights may be acknowledging that it contains wisdom, but only if properly interpreted; as Drummond says, "The Bible is a book. A good book. But it is not the only book" (Act II, Sc. 2).
3. Evaluate the character of Hornbeck. What is his function in the play? Does he emerge, ultimately, as a positive or a negative character, and why?
>Students' responses will vary based on their readings of the play, and essays should contain specific references to the text in order to support their arguments. In this author's judgment, Hornbeck emerges ultimately as a negative character. Drummond's angry rejection of Hornbeck in Act III-"You never pushed a noun against a verb except to blow up something"-suggests that he finds Hornbeck just as guilty as Brady of refusing to pursue the truth, that quest that is of ultimate worth and value in Drummond's eyes; rather, Hornbeck is more interested in attacking and criticizing. Readers should note, as this study guide has noted, the hints, albeit humorously delivered, of satanic imagery surrounding Hornbeck in Act I, Sc. 1-e.g., "Don't worry. I'm not the serpent, Little Eva. / This isn't from the Tree of Knowledge." He clearly treats Hillsboro-"the buckle on the Bible belt" (Act I, Sc. 1)-and its citizens with contempt and views the whole proceedings as a circus. The fact that they in fact are does not in itself justify Hornbeck's constantly sarcastic and contemptuous view of the people involved, a view that Drummond does not share; he, in the clearest example, is able to acknowledge greatness in Brady, because it is the greatness of a man-as he says, "A giant once lived in that body" (Act III)-who stood by his convictions as surely as Drummond did his own. Hornbeck, for his part, seems to have no convictions beyond the desire for a good story, material that will allow him to craft a "symphony of words" (Act I, Sc. 1). Functionally, Hornbeck serves for Inherit the Wind a purpose not unlike that of the Greek chorus in ancient drama, commenting on and interpreting the action. Hornbeck, of course, is much more involved in the drama itself than the Greek chorus traditionally was.
4. The trial of Bertram Cates raises questions regarding the proper role of education and the rightful duty of teachers. What role for education and educators does Inherit the Wind put forth, and how similar or dissimilar is the play's approach to educational philosophies with which you are familiar?
>Inherit the Wind implicitly commends Cates for being willing to share new ideas with his students and for encouraging them to think for themselves. As he tells Rachel, "They were questions, Rache. I was just asking questions" (Act I, Sc. 2). In the same scene, Drummond tells Rachel, "The man who has everything figured out is probably a fool." As the trial begins, young Howard testifies, when asked if he believes everything that Cates "told" (note that the verb used is not "taught") him, "I'm not sure. I gotta think it over," to which Drummond replies, "Good for you" (Act II, Sc. 2). The consistent view of the play is that new ideas are not to be feared and knowledge is not to be rejected out of hand because it contradicts the received wisdom of the past. This view suggests that education is not the bare imparting of facts, and it is not ensuring mastery of a pre-selected list of standards that can be objectively measured; rather, the function of education is to cultivate a lively pattern of thought, and educators should raise as many questions, if not more, as they answer. Essays' responses to this view of education will vary based on students' experiences and personal convictions.
5. Based on Inherit the Wind, what, if any, is the proper relationship between science and religion? Do you agree with this view? Explain.
>Students can refer to earlier portions of these notes to see instances in which a positive relationship between science and religion is suggested-for example, the symbolic gesture discussed above of Drummond weighing and packing the Bible and The Origin of Species together in his case at the end of Act III; or his question of Brady in Act II, Sc. 2, "How can you be so cocksure that the body of scientific knowledge systematized in the writings of Charles Darwin is, in any way, irreconcilable with the spirit of the Book of Genesis?" (emphasis added). Such moments in the play hint that religion and science do not have to exist in opposition to each other. On the whole, however, it can be argued that religion and science are irreconcilable antagonists throughout the script, personified in the characters of Brady and Drummond, respectively. Note, for example, Drummond's positively hagiographic characterization of Darwin in Act II, Sc. 2: "Darwin moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis." The play never substantively considers ways in which that "pleasant poetry" may, in fact, express truths that lie behind the physical processes of evolution that can be scientifically explained. It never treats the idea that science answers "how" questions about life while religion answers "why" questions. Instead, the play is content-and perhaps properly so, given the obstacles Darwinism faced (and continues to face) as well as the historic context of McCarthyism in which the playwrights wrote-to "deflate" its generally authoritarian, bullying, closed-minded religious characters. Drummond does, however, make reference to reason as the one, God-given faculty that sets human beings apart from the rest of creation-a belief shared by much classic Judeo-Christian theology. The bare bricks of constructing a positive relationship between science and religion are present in the script, even if they are not used to their fullest potential. Students' own assessments of the proper relationship between these two human fields of knowledge will vary based on their experiences and personal convictions.