Act Two, Scene II Summary:
Two days later, in the hot courtroom, thirteen-year-old Howard is on the witness stand. Brady questions him about what Mr. Cates taught. According to Howard, Cates taught that at first the world was too hot and over millions of years, little bugs grew to bigger bugs and climbed out of the water. Then fish and reptiles and mammals, including man, came along. And out of what Brady calls "this mess," man evolved from "Old World Monkeys." But, Brady asks, in all this talk of "Evil-ution," did Cates ever mention God or the miracle of Genesis. Howard says no. And though Drummond objects to his speech-making, Brady proceeds to pontificate to the jury about the poison the "Evil-utionists" peddle and the need to mete the full penalty of the law to Cates so that the world will call the courtroom blessed.
Drummond asks Howard if he thought there was anything wrong with what Cates taught. Davenport objects to questioning the boy on morality but Drummond argues that the right to think is very much on trial. Despite the judge and Brady's objections to that notion, Drummond says that Cates is on trial because he chose to speak what he thinks. Drummond then asks Howard if his pitching arm was hurt by what Cates taught or if he has murdered anyone since breakfast or even if he believes everything Cates taught. Howard is not sure about the last question, saying he needs to think it over. Drummond also asks the boy if a tractor or telephone is sinful because it isn't in the Bible, leading Brady to object and ask Drummond if "Right" has no meaning to him. Drummond says it doesn't, that truth does, as a direction, but that the need to place every action in a grid of morality is "one of the peculiar imbecilities of our time."
Brady next questions Rachel, who says that Cates dropped out of the church two summers ago after the little Stebbins boy drowned and her father preached that because he had not been baptized, he didn't die in a state of grace. Cates shouts out that Reverend Brown preached that Tommy Stebbins' soul was damned, writhing in hellfire. Brady next attempts to question Rachel about her conversations with Cates, in which Cates said "God did not create Man. Man created God." Rachel explains Cates was joking when he in fact said, "God created Man in his own imageand Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment." When Brady proceeds to ask about a statement Cates made comparing holy matrimony to the breeding of animals, Rachel is so emotionally blocked and near breakdown, she can say nothing. Brady dismisses her and Drummond says he has no questions for her.
The prosecution rests its case, and Drummond attempts to call his expert witnesses the head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Chicago, a Congregational Church deacon who is also a professor of geology and archaeology at Oberlin College, and a philosopher, anthropologist, and author but the judge agrees with Brady's objections to these experts as irrelevant. Though Drummond argues that the jury can't pass judgment on Cates' teaching of evolutionary theory if they don't know what it is, Brady and the judge hold that they in court to enforce a law that excludes such testimony. Finally, a desperate Drummond calls Brady as an expert witness on the Bible. Though the judge holds that it is unorthodox, Brady fervently agrees to speak out on behalf of the Living Truth of the Holy Scriptures.
Drummond wants to know, if Brady has studied and memorized so much of the Bible but has never opened the Origin of Species, how he can "whoop up this holy war" against something he knows nothing about. When Drummond attempts to quote a passage from the Origin of Species, Davenport objects and the judge tells him to confine his questions to the Bible. Brady says he believes everything in the Bible should be taken as it is given so God could make a whale swallow a man and could make the sun stand still. Of the story of Joshua stopping the sun, Drummond says Brady must not have much faith in natural law and might as well wipe Copernicus out of the classroom too. Of the Cain's wife, whose creation the Bible doesn't explain, Brady says he never wondered, for the "Bible satisfies [him], it is enough."
Next, Drummond asks Brady if the "begatting" in the Bible is the same as today, which Brady confirms, and then elicits from Brady his belief that sex is Original Sin which Drummond surmises didn't make the holy people any less holy. The judge warns Drummond away from a line of questioning that has nothing to do with the case, but Brady says that Drummond is pleading the prosecution's case with his contempt for all that is holy. To that, Drummond objects. Brady wants to know what can possibly holy to "the celebrated agnostic," and Drummond replies that the individual human mind is more holy than shouted "Amens!" The advance of human knowledge is a miracle, but Brady is trying to stop the march of progress with a fable. Of course, we lose a little with progress lack of privacy with the telephone, for example and from Darwin's writing, we lose our faith in the "pleasant poetry of Genesis" but gain the ability to see from where we came.
In response to Drummond's speech, Brady replies that faith is the important thing. Drummond asks, then, why God gave humans the power to think unlike a horse or a sponge, or, he asks Brady, does a sponge think? Brady says if God wishes a sponge to think, it thinks, and so Drummond demands that Cates, a man, be given the same rights as a sponge. The crowd applauds, shocking Brady, who insists that Cates is deluded. Drummond shows Brady a rock and asks if he knows its age. He says according to Dr. Page of Oberlin, the rock is over ten million years old and contains the fossil remains of a pre-historic marine creature. Brady says those dates are wrong; the great flood was more recent and the rock is no more than six thousand years old. According to Biblical scholar Bishop Usher, Creation occurred October 23 in the year 4004 BC at 9 AM and that's a fact! Drummond asks if that was 9 AM Eastern Time or Rocky Mountain Time. The crowd laughs, making Brady nervous.
Drummond asks Brady if the first day was twenty-four hours long, since there was no sun. Brady will only say "the Bible says it was a day" and, when Drummond asks what he thinks, "I do not think about things that...I do not think about!" Finally, Drummond gets him to admit that the first day in Genesis is not necessarily a twenty-four-hour day; according to Drummond, it could have been thirty hours or ten million years. Davenport protests and Brady says Drummond is trying to destroy faith in the Bible. Drummond says he is trying to stop "you bigots and ignoramuses" from controlling education, earning him a warning from the judge.
Brady demands to know how Drummond dare attack the Bible, and Drummonds says that while the Bible is a good book, it's not the only book. But, Brady replies, it is the word of God, who "spake" to its writers. Drummond asks how he knows God didn't speak to Darwin, and Brady says God told him, tells him the difference between right and wrong. So, Drummond says, orator Brady "the prophet from Nebraska" passes on God's orders to the rest of the world. Brady is nearly inarticulate as Drummond presses on, asking if God speaks through Brady and speculating what would happen if a man like Cates had as much lung-power. He wonders what would happen if a lesser man a Darwin or Cates thinks God whispers to him and dares to have an unBrady thought. Maybe a Book of Brady should be added to the Bible. Again the crowd laughs.
Drummond excuses the witness as Brady struggles for words, trying to regain the crowd's sympathy. He says they know what he believes and begins to intone the names of the books of the Bible even after the judge has dismissed him and adjourned court. Drummond leaves the courtroom, surrounded by reporters and the crowd, leaving Brady still on the witness stand. Mrs. Brady approaches him, and he says that they are laughing at him he can't stand when they laugh at him. She cradles his shoulders and heading, rocking, saying "It's all right, baby."
Act Two, Scene II Analysis:
This is the climactic scene in the play. Brady's testimony on the witness stand and his eventual breakdown represents the point at which power shifts and all characters' fortunes change. Up until this point, Brady has wielded the power, as demonstrated through his impressive oratory, and has had the fervent support of the crowd. The reversals which occur in this scene undercut all we, the audience, have come to believe about Brady. No longer is he confident. No longer does he have the absolute respect of the crowd. No longer is his opinion the most valued in the courtroom. If we read this play as a contest between Drummond, as protagonist, and Brady, as antagonist, the action of the conflict has been fundamentally resolved in this scene. Protagonist confronts antagonist and antogonist surprisingly crumbles.
Despite our and the townspeople's assumptions about Brady, a great deal of foreshadowing has in fact led up to Brady's disintigration in this scene. Mrs. Brady's attitude toward her husband in earlier scenes worrying about what he eats at the picnic and reminding him to cover his neck in the night air demonstrate that, out of the public eye, this is a man who needs and is used to having someone take care of him. His meltdown on the witness stand in effect reduces him to a child. The incongruity of seeing this "great man" reduced to being rocked, like a child, by the wife he calls "Mother" shows that, in many ways, Brady's show of strength and confidence has been a façade. Significantly, Brady waits until all spectators have left the courtroom the stage directions even note that he looks around the room to see if everyone is gone before he speaks to his wife before he allows himself to be reduced to the role of quivering child, telling his wife that "they're laughing at me, Mother!" And though the crowd has left the courtroom, the audience is privy to Brady's breakdown and this rare glimpse into the man behind the giant. If Brady's confidence has been a mask, they must wonder, what else assumed to be right and good is not to be trusted?
It is possible to read Inherit the Wind as a tragedy and Brady as a tragic hero. Though he does not come from royalty, as the classical tragic hero must, he is a man of high status a former vice-president and famous political figure of whom great things are expected. Brady's flaw here is hubris, or excessive pride. He believes himself to be the defender of all that is good and right so strongly that he does not stop to question those beliefs. It takes Drummond's examination of him to reveal the absurdity and extent of Brady's pride, which is so great he believes himself to have direct knowledge of God's will and has appointed himself God's defender. Brady's tragic fall occurs in this scene as a direct result of this flaw. Though the judge offers him the opportunity to refuse to testify, he believes so strongly that his words will support the Bible and his own case that he is eager to take the stand. He is disgraced not because his opinions or beliefs are wrong but rather because his pride in himself, when revealed to the court, is ridiculous and excessive. To a proud man like Brady, nothing is worse than the laughter of the crowd he expects to worship him.
From the conflict in the courtroom, between Drummond, Brady, and the judge, it is clear that differing perspectives drive the conflict. The judge as well as Davenport see the conflict quite narrowly. To them, a law has been broken. All that needs to be proved is that Cates taught evolution, which is against the law. For that reason, they are shocked by and vehemently opposed to the expert witnesses Drummond seeks to question. The judge says that the law is already on the books there is no need to question its validity. He is even confused by Drummond's insistence on introducing such witnesses and his comparison of an evolutionist as expert witness in this trial with forensic weapons expert in a murder trial. Brady, however, does grasp the greater significance of the trial that it is more than a literal struggle between legal and illegal. To him, it is a question of universal right and wrong, in which the verdict in the courtroom makes a statement about faith around the world.
Both the judge and Brady differ from Drummond in their need to see the world in black-and-white terms a theme which began in the first scene with Cates' response to Rachel's desire for him to apologize for wrongdoing. Drummond has already stated that right and wrong mean nothing to him. To him, the content of the idea, rather than some value judgment placed on it, is what is significant. He says that a man's right to think and to express his thoughts is at stake in the trial. It is precisely Drummond's ability to see the gray areas, the ambiguity of speech and thought, that allows him to ultimately confront and gain the upper hand over Brady. Only by addressing the deeply held beliefs, in literal Scripture, that form the basis for this community's law against teaching evolution rather than by addressing evolution itself can Drummond hope to change and open their minds.
A difference in tone characterizes Drummond and Brady throughout the courtroom scenes, especially here. Whereas Brady is grandiloquent and powerful in his oratory, Drummond is merely conversational, a manner that the playwrights note seems almost disrespectful after Brady's manner in the courtroom. Brady, and most likely the audience, assumes that Drummond "the atheist" must not feel strongly about anything because of his system of beliefs. In this scene, of course, Brady's assumptions are proven wrong. His assertions that he simply doesn't think about certain ambiguities in the Bible provides the ground for Drummond to assert his own system of beliefs. It is possible, he demonstrates, to not be religious, in the sense that Reverend Brown and his townspeople are religious, and to still hold things holy. Drummond's speech about the holiness of the human mind and capacity for thought encapsulates the basis on which he fights for Cates. He is not just fighting for this schoolteacher, or for the legality of teaching evolution, but for the fundamental value of free thought and speech, an ideal that great American Brady, in his fights for faith and belief in his own knowledge of right and wrong, seems to have forgotten.
It is significant that Drummond's decision to question Brady comes not from strategy but from desperation, as the stage directions explicitly note. From the beginning, this has been a conflict not between Cates and the town but a conflict of deeply held ideas, which Drummond and Brady represent. It is only fitting, then, that they should reach the climax of the play through a direct confrontation of thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions.
The juxtaposition of the crowd's reaction with the conflict between Drummond and Brady reveals some unpleasant truths about the citizens of Hillsboro. Whereas Drummond and Brady's conflict is primarily an ideological and intellectual, the townspeople throughout the play have reacted almost instinctually and unthinkingly. One example of this is their passionate emotional response to Reverend Brown's preaching against Cates. Another example is their fickle change from Brady's supporters to detractors in this scene. The crowd, with its applause and laughter, simply echoes the shift of power. They respond to Brady's crumbling certainty and Drummond's interrogation of his assumptions not with gasps of realization but simply with laughter at the confusion of what they once believed to be a great man. In many ways, the crowd is a far harsher judge than Brady himself might be for their opinions are not arrived at through intellectual consideration but through a mob mentality. Brady's downfall, in this scene, is that he considers the crowd's reaction far too important. Used to being considered all-powerful and respected by the people, Brady is unable to shake off their laughter once they turn against him.