Inherit the Wind

By Jerome Lawrence


“Inherit the Wind” is a powerful and engaging play that takes its audience back to the heated courtroom of the fictional Hillsboro trial. 🏛️ Penned by the talented Jerome Lawrence alongside Robert E. Lee, this masterpiece was first brought to the stage in 1955. Set against the backdrop of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, the play serves as a metaphor for the McCarthy trials of the 1950s, where intellectual freedom was under siege. 📚🔥

Jerome Lawrence, an American playwright, and his co-author Robert E. Lee, sought to explore themes of freedom of thought and the conflict between science and religion through this courtroom drama. Belonging to the genre of historical drama, “Inherit the Wind” does not merely recount a historical event but uses it as a vehicle to discuss larger, timeless issues about human nature and society.

As a piece of literature, it stands out not only for its historical context but also for its vibrant characters, sharp dialogue, and its ability to provoke thought about the nature of truth and the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs. 🌟 Whether you’re a lover of intense courtroom dramas or a seeker of thought-provoking narratives that challenge societal norms, “Inherit the Wind” promises to be an unforgettable journey. Let’s dive into the heart of Hillsboro and uncover the essence of this timeless play!

Plot Summary

“Inherit the Wind” is a riveting courtroom drama that captures the essence of a small town torn apart by a monumental trial. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the main events, from the exposition to the resolution:

Exposition — The play opens in the small town of Hillsboro, where Bertram Cates, a young schoolteacher, is jailed for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution, a subject forbidden by state law. This sets the stage for a clash between two legal titans and ideologies.

Rising Action — The town is thrust into the national spotlight as two legal giants, Matthew Harrison Brady (representing traditional religious values) and Henry Drummond (championing scientific freedom and intellectual inquiry), arrive to face off in what is dubbed the “trial of the century.” The trial begins, drawing intense media attention and dividing the town.

Climax — The trial reaches its boiling point when Drummond calls Brady to the stand as an expert on the Bible. In a dramatic cross-examination, Drummond questions Brady’s rigid interpretation of scripture, challenging the infallibility of his beliefs and highlighting the conflict between dogmatic faith and the freedom of thought.

Falling Action — The trial concludes with Cates being found guilty, though the penalty is a nominal fine. The verdict is a pyrrhic victory for the prosecution, as the trial’s proceedings have sparked widespread debate about the issues at its core.

Resolution — In the aftermath of the trial, the characters reflect on their experiences and the impact of the events. Drummond, despite his victory in intellectual debate, shows respect for Brady’s commitment to his beliefs. The play ends with Drummond departing Hillsboro, leaving behind a town that will never be the same, having been the epicenter of a debate that touches on fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Throughout the play, Lawrence and Lee masterfully weave a narrative that is both a specific story about a trial and a universal tale about the struggle between progress and tradition, freedom and censorship. The detailed depiction of the trial and its ramifications for the characters involved leaves audiences with much to ponder about the nature of belief, knowledge, and the right to think freely.

Character Analysis

“Inherit the Wind” boasts a cast of compelling characters, each adding depth and perspective to the play’s exploration of science, religion, and freedom. Here’s a look at the main characters:

Bertram Cates — A young and idealistic schoolteacher arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. His trial becomes the focal point of the play, symbolizing the fight for intellectual freedom. Cates is quiet yet steadfast, embodying the courage it takes to challenge societal norms.

Matthew Harrison Brady — A three-time presidential candidate and nationally renowned prosecutor, Brady represents traditional Christian values and the legal system’s stance against the teaching of evolution. His character is charismatic and beloved by many, yet his refusal to accept differing viewpoints leads to his downfall. Brady’s complexity lies in his genuine belief in what he preaches, making him a tragic figure rather than a mere antagonist.

Henry Drummond — The agnostic defense attorney representing Cates, Drummond champions the right to think and question established beliefs. His character is sharp, witty, and deeply humanistic, providing a counterpoint to Brady’s dogmatism. Drummond’s respect for both science and religion highlights the play’s call for balance and tolerance.

E.K. Hornbeck — A cynical journalist covering the trial, Hornbeck provides sarcastic commentary throughout the play, often serving as a comic relief. His character, though seemingly dismissive of both sides, ultimately respects Drummond’s defense of human thought and freedom.

Rachel Brown — The daughter of the town’s reverend and Cates’ love interest, Rachel struggles between her loyalty to her father and her feelings for Cates. Her character arc from submissive to assertive represents the internal conflict faced by many when confronting ingrained beliefs.

Reverend Jeremiah Brown — Rachel’s father and a fervent preacher, he embodies the intolerance and fanaticism of religious extremism. His character contrasts sharply with Drummond’s, illustrating the dangers of blind faith.

Character Analysis Summary:

CharacterPersonalityMotivationsCharacter Development
Bertram CatesIdealistic, courageousTo challenge the prohibition of teaching evolutionBecomes more resolved in his stand
Matthew BradyCharismatic, stubbornTo defend religious beliefs and the lawFaces the limits of his influence and beliefs
Henry DrummondWitty, humanisticTo defend intellectual freedomGains a deeper understanding of his opponent
E.K. HornbeckCynical, observantTo critique and observe the trialShows respect for Drummond’s cause
Rachel BrownSubmissive (initially), evolvingTo find her own voice amidst conflicting loyaltiesGrows into an assertive individual
Reverend BrownFanatical, intolerantTo uphold his religious beliefs at all costsRemains rigid, highlighting his tragic flaw

Each character in “Inherit the Wind” plays a crucial role in unfolding the drama and delivering the play’s themes, making the story not just a courtroom drama but a deep dive into the complexities of human belief, freedom, and progress.

Themes and Symbols

“Inherit the Wind” is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to its lasting impact and relevance. Here’s an exploration of the major ones:

Freedom of Thought — Central to the play is the conflict between the right to think independently and societal pressures to conform. This theme is embodied in the trial of Bertram Cates for teaching evolution, challenging the status quo and advocating for intellectual freedom against dogmatic beliefs.

Science vs. Religion — The play depicts the tension between scientific discovery and religious belief, presenting them as competing ideologies. However, through characters like Drummond, it also suggests that science and religion can coexist, advocating for a balance between faith and rational thought.

The Individual vs. Society — Cates’ struggle reflects the broader theme of individualism against societal norms. His willingness to stand alone against widespread opposition highlights the importance of individual courage and conviction in the face of collective pressure.

Progress and Evolution — Not just a reference to Darwin’s theory, but also symbolizing societal and intellectual progress. The play champions the idea that knowledge and understanding evolve over time, and clinging to outdated beliefs hinders growth.


The Golden Dancer Rocking Horse — Mentioned by Drummond, the rocking horse symbolizes the illusion of truth and the danger of blindly accepting beliefs without scrutiny. It serves as a metaphor for the attractive but ultimately unstable foundations of unquestioned faith.

The Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species — These books symbolize the core of the conflict between science and religion in the play. Their presence in the courtroom underscores the debate over which worldview should prevail in education and public life.

The Town of Hillsboro — Represents the broader societal resistance to change and the challenges faced by progressive ideas in conservative environments. It serves as a microcosm of the national debate over evolution and freedom of thought.

Through these themes and symbols, “Inherit the Wind” transcends its historical setting to address timeless questions about the nature of truth, the value of questioning, and the eternal struggle between progress and tradition.

Style and Tone

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s “Inherit the Wind” is a work that masterfully employs a variety of writing styles and tones to bring depth to its exploration of themes such as freedom, conflict, and progress. Here’s how these elements contribute to the mood and atmosphere of the play:

  • Dialogue-Driven Narration — The play’s narrative is primarily advanced through sharp, engaging dialogue, which serves to both define characters and propel the plot. This approach makes the themes accessible and the conflicts vivid, drawing the audience directly into the courtroom drama and the intellectual debates at its heart.
  • Dramatic Irony — The use of dramatic irony adds complexity to the tone, allowing the audience to grasp the significance of events and statements that the characters themselves might not fully understand. This technique heightens the tension and underscores the play’s deeper themes, such as the danger of unquestioned beliefs.
  • Symbolic Language — Lawrence and Lee employ symbolic language to infuse the text with deeper meanings. References to biblical stories and scientific concepts are woven into the dialogue, enriching the narrative with layers of significance that extend beyond the literal events of the plot.
  • Tone Shifts — The tone of the play shifts between serious, thought-provoking discourse and moments of light-heartedness or satire. This balance keeps the audience engaged and underscores the play’s message that serious ideas about society and humanity can coexist with wit and humor.
  • Satirical Elements — The character of E.K. Hornbeck, for example, often uses satirical and cynical comments to critique both sides of the trial. This satire serves to question societal norms and poke holes in the pretensions of both the town’s religious zealotry and the arrogance of intellectual superiority.
  • Humanistic Perspective — Underlying the entire narrative is a deep sense of humanism, a belief in the value and potential of human beings to reason and evolve. This perspective is evident in the compassionate portrayal of characters, even those with flawed beliefs, and in the play’s call for mutual understanding and respect.

These stylistic choices and tonal variations enrich “Inherit the Wind,” making it not just a play about a historical trial but a timeless exploration of human nature, societal change, and the value of freedom of thought.

Literary Devices used in Inherit the Wind

“Inherit the Wind” utilizes a range of literary devices that enhance its storytelling, deepen its themes, and engage its audience. Here are the top 10 devices used in the play:

  1. Metaphor — The entire trial serves as a metaphor for the conflict between progressive thought and entrenched traditional beliefs, illustrating the broader societal tensions between science and religion.
  2. Irony — There’s dramatic irony in how Brady, who comes to Hillsboro as a celebrated figure, ends up being humiliated in court. This contrasts with Drummond, who, despite facing hostility, gains respect for his defense of intellectual freedom.
  3. Symbolism — Objects like Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and the Bible symbolize the clash of ideologies. The Golden Dancer rocking horse represents the allure and danger of superficially attractive but fundamentally flawed beliefs.
  4. Allusion — References to biblical stories and historical figures enrich the text with deeper layers of meaning, connecting the play’s events to a broader cultural and intellectual context.
  5. Foreshadowing — Early mentions of the oppressive heat and the town’s rigid attitudes foreshadow the intense conflict and moral struggles that unfold during the trial.
  6. Hyperbole — Characters like Hornbeck use exaggeration to mock the proceedings and the town’s inhabitants, highlighting the absurdity of the legal and societal opposition to scientific teaching.
  7. Personification — The play personifies ideas, such as freedom and ignorance, imbuing them with character-like qualities that make the abstract themes more tangible and compelling.
  8. Simile — The use of similes, such as comparing the stifling atmosphere of Hillsboro to a pressure cooker, vividly conveys the intensity and claustrophobia of the setting.
  9. Juxtaposition — The contrasting characters of Brady and Drummond juxtapose differing worldviews, illustrating the complex nature of the play’s central conflict.
  10. Pathetic Fallacy — The weather in the play often mirrors the emotional climate and tensions of the trial, such as the oppressive heat reflecting the heated debates and high stakes of the courtroom battle.

These literary devices are integral to “Inherit the Wind,” weaving together the narrative and thematic elements of the play to create a rich, multidimensional work that resonates with audiences on many levels.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s dive into the examples and explanations of the top 10 literary devices used in “Inherit the Wind.”


The trial as a battleground for freedom of thought.The trial isn’t just a legal proceeding but symbolizes the broader struggle between progressive ideas and traditional beliefs.


Brady’s downfall in the town that initially celebrated him.This highlights the irony of Brady’s situation, where his quest to defend traditional beliefs leads to his public and personal humiliation.


The Golden Dancer rocking horse.Symbolizes the danger of blindly accepting beliefs without scrutiny, representing beautiful but hollow convictions that can lead to a fall.


References to biblical figures and Darwin.Enrich the narrative with cultural and historical significance, drawing parallels between the play’s events and wider intellectual debates.


Early mentions of the town’s oppressive heat.Foreshadows the intense conflict and emotional pressure that characters will face in the trial.


Hornbeck’s exaggerated descriptions of the town’s backwardness.Used to critique and satirize the town’s and its inhabitants’ resistance to change and new ideas.


Ideas like freedom and ignorance given character-like qualities.Makes abstract concepts more relatable and emphasizes their importance in the story.


Comparing Hillsboro to a “pressure cooker.”Vividly illustrates the tension and potential for conflict within the small town.


The contrasting characters of Brady and Drummond.Highlights the complexity of the play’s central themes, showing multiple perspectives on faith, progress, and the value of questioning.

Pathetic Fallacy

The oppressive heat mirroring the trial’s intensity.The weather acts as a reflection of the emotional and intellectual climate of the play, emphasizing the high stakes involved.

These examples show how “Inherit the Wind” uses literary devices to layer its narrative with meaning, enhance its themes, and engage the audience on multiple levels.

Inherit the Wind – FAQs

What is the main conflict in “Inherit the Wind”?
The main conflict revolves around the trial of Bertram Cates, a schoolteacher who is prosecuted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution, against the state law. The conflict embodies the larger thematic struggle between the freedom of thought and the restrictive norms of society, science versus religion, and the individual versus the collective.

Who are the key characters in “Inherit the Wind”?

  • Bertram Cates: The young teacher on trial for teaching evolution.
  • Henry Drummond: The defense attorney, representing Cates and the cause of intellectual freedom.
  • Matthew Harrison Brady: The prosecutor, representing the state and traditional religious beliefs.
  • E.K. Hornbeck: A cynical journalist covering the trial, representing the viewpoint of the modern skeptic.
  • Rachel Brown: The reverend’s daughter and Cates’ love interest, who embodies the internal conflict between tradition and progress.

What are the major themes in “Inherit the Wind”?
Major themes include the conflict between science and religion, the struggle for freedom of thought, the individual versus society, and the evolution of ideas and societal norms.

Is “Inherit the Wind” a true story?
“Inherit the Wind” is a fictionalized account inspired by the real-life 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, where a teacher was prosecuted for teaching evolution. While the characters and events are largely fictional, they reflect the broader cultural and ideological battles of the time.

What does the title “Inherit the Wind” signify?
The title is derived from Proverbs 11:29, which reads, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.” It suggests that those who stir up trouble or conflict (by challenging societal norms, in this context) will gain nothing substantial in return, symbolizing the ephemeral nature of victory in ideological battles.

How does “Inherit the Wind” relate to today’s society?
The play’s exploration of themes like the tension between science and religion, the importance of free thought, and the clash between progress and tradition remains relevant in contemporary debates about education, science policy, and cultural division, reflecting ongoing struggles for understanding and tolerance.


What is the primary setting of “Inherit the Wind”?Hillsboro CourthouseA New York City law firmA small Southern schoolDrummond’s home
Who is the author of “On the Origin of Species,” a book that plays a significant role in the play?Charles DarwinMatthew Harrison BradyHenry DrummondBertram Cates
What does the Golden Dancer represent in the play?The beauty of faithThe dangers of superficial beliefsDrummond’s love for musicBrady’s political career
What legal issue is at the heart of “Inherit the Wind”?FraudTeaching evolution in schoolsMurderTheft
Which character represents traditional religious values and the legal system’s stance against teaching evolution?Henry DrummondE.K. HornbeckMatthew Harrison BradyBertram Cates
How does the play end?With Cates being acquittedWith Drummond winning the presidencyWith Brady’s public humiliationWith Cates being found guilty but fined a nominal amount
What does the town of Hillsboro symbolize?The broader societal resistance to changeThe American legal systemA haven for progressive thoughtThe importance of community

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of “Inherit the Wind” and its key elements, including its plot, characters, themes, and symbols.


Spot the Literary Devices

Read the following paragraph from “Inherit the Wind” and identify the literary devices used. Then, check your answers below.

“In the scorching heat of the Hillsboro courtroom, where ideas clashed like titans under the oppressive gaze of tradition, Drummond stood, a solitary figure against a sea of conformity. His voice, though calm, carried the weight of centuries, echoing the silent questions of countless souls who dared to dream beyond the boundaries set by those who inherited the wind.”


  1. Metaphor: Ideas clashing like titans under the oppressive gaze of tradition.
  2. Personification: The oppressive gaze of tradition.
  3. Simile: Drummond stood, a solitary figure against a sea of conformity.
  4. Allusion: Those who inherited the wind – referring to the play’s title, which itself is an allusion to Proverbs 11:29.
  5. Hyperbole: His voice…carried the weight of centuries.

This exercise aims to enhance your understanding of how literary devices enrich the text, adding layers of meaning and emotion to the narrative.