Inherit the Wind: Metaphor Analysis


Metaphor Analysis

The trial is the major metaphor of the play. As Drummond says, Bertram Cates is not really the one on trial. The right to think is on trial. The metaphor of a courtroom, with its adversarial process, is an apt one, because the process is designed to help juries arrive at truth. Truth is of paramount importance to Drummond; to him, truth determines morality, not vice versa. The courtroom can thus function as a crucible in which the "pleasant poetry of Genesis" (Act II, Sc. 2), as espoused by Brady, is burned away until only truth remains.

Of course, truth brings with it a price. Hornbeck hints at this in the first scene, as he munches on his apple. The apple is a symbol that appears only briefly, but it does appear here at the beginning of the drama to establish that, just as when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and had their eyes opened, so the people of Hillsboro will be, in a sense, "cast out of the garden" because of their encounter with truth through the trial. In Drummond's words, "[P]rogress has never been a bargain. You've got to pay for it" (Act II, Sc. 2). In some ways, then, the play resonates with the ancient theological motif of the felix culpa, or "happy fall"-basically, the idea that humanity had to be stripped of its primeval innocence in order to progress. Certainly, in Inherit the Wind, the "unforgivable sin," if any, seems to be "standing still" (Act II, Sc. 1) rather than moving forward.

The Judge and Mayor remain unnamed throughout the play, suggesting that they are primarily metaphors rather than characters. Their lack of personal names serves to reinforce the drama's sense of "authority" as an impersonal force that, if left unchecked, will crush individual human minds and spirits. The mayor's bestowing of the military title "colonel" on Brady, and its later conferring on Drummond, also mocks authoritarian claims on human life. Conformity-cleverly dramatized in this scene through the process of jury selection, which is inherently a process based on how well potential jurors do or do not conform to certain standards-is the great danger throughout Inherit the Wind. Unthinking conformity is to be resisted and rejected-it is, in Drummond's memorable image, "a meat-grinder." Critical readers may, of course, want to question whether an uncritical faith in Darwin is any better or worse than an uncritical faith in Genesis.

Finally, the two books at the center of the trial are also highly symbolic. The Bible represents the received wisdom of the past, traditionally accorded high status; Darwin's Origin of Species contains a challenge to that wisdom, resisted by some but embraced by others. Of course, the books literally are the Bible and Darwin's work in the play; but, at the symbolic level, they are placed at odds with each other just as are Drummond and Brady. Drummond's closing act-packing the books side-by-side in his briefcase-is thus best read, as the playwrights probably intended it to be read, as a symbolic action, hinting that the approaches to life represented by these two volumes-the approach of faith and the approach of reason-do not need to oppose each other. This juxtaposition of the two books, however, is the first suggestion of such a "peaceful co-existence" in the play (excepting perhaps Drummond's line, "The Bible is a book. A good book. But it's not the only book" in Act II, Sc. 2). Lawrence and Lee may be demanding that the two books play too much of a symbolic role by thus redefining their relationship to each other in their play's closing moments.

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