Act One, Scene II Summary:
A few days later, in the courtroom, ten of twelve jurors have already been chosen. Davenport, the local prosecutor, is about to confirm a prospective juror named Bannister, who has just testified that he attends church regularly, when Drummond asks Bannister why he's so anxious to get that front seat in the jury box. Bannister says it's supposed to be quite a show. Drummond asks if he's read Darwin. He hasn't read that but he hasn't read the Bible either; he can't read. Drummond confirms him.
Brady makes a motion, because it is 97 degrees in the courtroom, that he be allowed to remove his coat. Drummond takes off his too, to reveal bright purple suspenders. Brady, who has been basking in the laughter of the crowd, asks if those are the latest fashion in Chicago. Drummond one-ups him by revealing he purchased them in Brady's hometown of Weeping Water, Nebraska. Davenport questions farmer and cabinetmaker Jesse Dunlap, the next prospective juror, who says he believes in God and in Brady. Drummond dismisses him. Brady objects to Drummond's levity the only question he asks Dunlap is about the heat and Drummond in turn objects to Brady's being called Colonel as prejudicial to the defendant. In return, the judge makes Drummond a "temporary Honorable Colonel."
The next prospective juror, George Sillers, who works at the feed store, says he is religious as the next man and is accepted by Brady as an honest, God-fearing man. When Drummond questions him, he says that his wife tends to the religion for both of them. Brady objects to the hypothetical questions Drummond asks Sillers about what his wife would feel if she were to meet Darwin, and when Sillers insists all he does is work at the feed store, Drummond accepts him. Brady then objects, saying all the jurors should conform to the laws and patterns of society, leading Drummond to accuse him of wanting to run all the jurors through a meat grinder.
Brady continues to object to Drummond's practice of twisting and confusing the jurors' minds, as he did in the Endicott publishing case when he convinced jurors the obscenity was not on the page but in their own mind. Drummond says he just wants to prevent "clock-stoppers" from dumping "medieval nonsense" into the Constitution, and the judge, in light of the heat, holds that the jury has been selected and resources court until the next morning. The judge then announces, as a favor to Reverend Brown, that a prayer meeting with be held on the courthouse lawn that evening. Drummond objects to that "commercial announcement" and says it's bad enough that everyone has to walk into the courtroom under the "Read Your Bible!" banner, with no "Read Your Darwin!" banner. The judge calls him out of order and recesses court. The crowd gathers around Brady as he leaves.
Rachel stands wordless near Cates and then darts to Drummond's side, urging him to call the whole thing off and just have Cates admit that he did wrong and broke the law. Cates says that people look at him worse than they did at the man from Minnesota who killed his wife. Drummond says that murdering a wife isn't as bad as murdering an old wives' tale. Rachel is upset that he turns everything into a joke, and Cates says he can't laugh because he's scared. Rachel accuses Drummond of just wanting to make speeches against the Bible, but Drummond says he cares about Cates and what he thinks. He wants to know if it's worth buying back his respectability by making him a coward. He tells Cates he'll change his plea only on the condition that he truly believes he committed a criminal act against the citizens of the state and their children's minds. Cates says he's not going to quit.
A teary-eyed Rachel says she doesn't know what she's going to do. She says Brady wants her to testify against Burt. Cates is worried because he knows those questions about what the stars are for or what's on the back side of the moon he has whispered to her in the dark will be made to sound like answers by Brady. Meeker takes Cates away, leaving Drummond telling Rachel not to let Brady scare her. She says she's not afraid of Brady; she's afraid of her father. Even when she was a child and woke up scared at night, the idea of going to him for comfort scared her more. She asks Drummond if Bert is wicked, and Drummond says no, that Cates may just may be a great man and it takes strength for a woman to love a man like that.
Act One, Scene II Analysis:
The theme of humor surfaces in this scene, first when the stage directions describe the judge as "humorless." Later, when speaking with Rachel, who accuses him of making jokes at Cates' expense, Drummond explains, "when you lose your power to laugh, you lose your power to think straight." Humor, then, is equated with perspective. In the previous scene, Hornbeck spoke about the "truck-garden" of Rachel's mind, referring to the circumscribed frame of reference possessed by the residents of Hillsboro. These people, who take the trial so seriously, cannot see beyond their own beliefs or customs, and like Rachel, cannot laugh at their situation. Their inability to step outside the situation their lack of perspective makes them unable to find the humor in it and furthermore makes them unable to see the truth in the situation.
Similarly, Drummond's words in this scene bring up the theme of the absurd. When he proposes a banner "Read Your Darwin!" be raised next to the "Read Your Bible!" banner, the judge remarks, "That's preposterous!" Drummond replies, "It certainly is!" Drummond, unlike the townspeople, is an outsider. As such, he is capable of recognizing the absurdity of the situation. The townspeople, lacking perspective, cannot differentiate between levels of good or bad, of right and wrong like Rachel in the previous scene, they want things to be black and white. Therefore, to them, Drummond and Cates are not just wrong or even criminal they are as bad as the devil.
Drummond, as a surrogate for the audience, provides a means for them to recognize the absurdity of the court case. With his purple suspenders, he assumes the figure of the clown. However, as a clown, he does not incite the crowd to laugh at him; rather, he causes them to laugh at his opponent, Brady. His role, as purveyor of humor, is to direct the crowd's and the audience's attention toward that which they have not examined and have heretofore taken for granted.
Unexamined assumptions provide the basis for the contrast which Brady and Drummond examine in the prospective jurors. Brady is erroneously concerned with the public, outward beliefs of the jurors. That they profess to be religious and regularly attend church is enough for him. Only when Drummond elicits the information that while Sillers may not have read Darwin, he has never read the Bible either, does Brady seem to realize that the religious beliefs of the people of Hillsboro may not be as deeply held as they appear. Brady's reliance on appearances is further revealed by Cates' prediction that he will twist his speculations about the universe to seemingly blasphemous answers.
Another theme that takes center stage in this scene is that of conformity. Brady does not seek adherence to deeper ideals or standards of justice. Rather, his primary concern is maintenance of the status quo. In his belated objection to the confirmation of Sillers as a juror, Brady says that "Unless the state of mind of the members of the jury conforms to the laws and patterns of society," suggesting an extremely narrow interpretation of a jury of one's peers. Society, to him, is not the nation or the world but simply the small town of Hillsboro. In conceiving of the laws and patterns of society as so limited, Brady in effect denies the rights of freedom of thought.
Inherit the Wind was written in the 1950s, at the same time as Communist witch hunts were taking place in American politics. Many writers and other artists in the fields of drama, television, and film, were blacklisted for supposedly holding or expressing Communist beliefs. In curtailing freedom of speech in this way, of course, the United States risked becoming as totalitarian and thought-controlling as they accused the Soviet Union of being. Here, the court case in Hillsboro is an allegory for the situation in 1950s America. A great man, with creative ideas and a searching spirit, is called criminal simply for thinking. Thus, Drummond functions as a mouthpiece for the playwrights, speaking not only to the townspeople of Hillsboro but to the audience and country as well.