Inherit the Wind

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Bertram Cates Character Analysis

A former high-school biology teacher in Hillsboro, Bert Cates is indicted and imprisoned for teaching evolution, which violates the state’s no-evolution teaching law. Cates, represented by famous progressive lawyer Henry Drummond, is showed to be a sensitive, thoughtful teacher, one who might even believe in God but believes, more importantly, that science ought to be taught in science classes. Although Cates is convicted of breaking the state’s law, the law itself is showed, during the trial, to be a vestige of an older, less religiously-tolerant society, and Cates is only fined 100 dollars for his “crime.”

Bertram Cates Quotes in Inherit the Wind

The Inherit the Wind quotes below are all either spoken by Bertram Cates or refer to Bertram Cates. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Science vs. Religion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ballantine Books edition of Inherit the Wind published in 2003.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Bert, it’s still not too late. Why can’t you admit you’re wrong? If the biggest man in the country . . . –if Matthew Harrison Brady comes here to tell the whole world how wrong you are . . . .
You still think I did wrong?

Related Characters: Bertram Cates (speaker), Rachel Brown (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Bert Cates and Rachel Brown are discussing Cates' upcoming trial, for a crime Cates has knowingly committed: the teaching of evolution in school. Rachel is inclined to believe both that Cates is a moral man, and that one ought to be obedient to the teachings of religion. Cates does not so much disagree with Rachel as he does argue, respectfully, that science, and not religion, ought to be taught in the classroom. Thus Cates is somewhat surprised to learn that Rachel believes he has "done wrong" in this instance. Cates instead believes that he has broken an "unjust law"—he has not sinned so much as fallen afoul of the town's restrictive, close-minded guidelines for scientific teaching.

This problem of moral authority as it runs up against the "law of the land" will recur throughout the play. Rachel's position will adjust over time, and will eventually approach Cates' worldview, this quote shows that even at the start of the play both Cates and Rachel are doing their best to live their own versions of moral lives. 

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You make it sound as if Bert is a hero. I’d like to think that, but I can’t. A schoolteacher is a public servant: I th9ink he should do what the law and the school-board want him to.

Related Characters: Rachel Brown (speaker), Bertram Cates
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Rachel makes the case here for why Bert Cates might perhaps deserve punishment even though he is not a bad person. Rachel does not think that Cates is ungodly or wicked, but she does argue, in a rather convincing way, that Cates ought to uphold the teachings of the place where he is employed—that there might be considerations beyond Cates's own ideas as to how things should work. This shows Rachel displaying her own kind of open-mindedness, even though at this point in the play she is still one of the "closed-minded" townspeople who oppose the teaching of science over religion.

Cates would counter, however, that an unjust or incorrect law ought not to be observed. Instead, a man or woman has a moral obligation to oppose a law he or she knows to be wrong or misguided—no matter how powerful the institutions or people behind such a law might be. Thus Cates and Rachel disagree fundamentally, at this point in the play, as to what Cates ought to have done about individually promoting evolution and ignoring the school board's dogma.

Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Mr. Drummond. You’ve got to call the whole thing off. It’s not too late. Bert knows he did wrong. He didn’t mean to. And he’s sorry. Now why can’t he just stand up and say to everybody: “I did wrong. I broke a law. I admit it. I won’t do it again.”

Related Characters: Rachel Brown (speaker), Bertram Cates, Henry Drummond
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Rachel begs Drummond to avoid the trial altogether, to keep Bert Cates out of the spotlight, and to let him confess to a lesser offense. There are several problems, however, with Rachel's logic in this instance. First, Cates does not believe that he did do anything wrong—Rachel still believes it was immoral to go against the school board's wishes, but again, Cates feels that to disobey an unjust law is just. Second, Cates himself is not willing to let the case go away—instead, he believes it is his right and duty to fight, tooth and nail, in his own defense. Cates does this not simply to clear his own name—although surely that is part of the consideration—but also to prove a point about open-mindedness in education. And to do this, he must air his grievances openly, in the courtroom. 

If you’ll stick by me, Rache—well, we can fight it out.

Related Characters: Bertram Cates (speaker), Rachel Brown
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Cates asks Rachel directly if she will support him. He does not wish to test Rachel's loyalty, but he knows that Rachel is a true friend, and Cates still believes that his side is the morally just one. He recognizes, too, that Rachel's influence in the town is significant, because Rachel's father is an important preacher and moral authority. If Rachel can be seen as sympathetic on Cates's behalf, then Cates, by this logic, cannot appear so bad to the rest of the town.

Rachel, for her part, walks a thin line. She does not wish for Cates to be punished too harshly, but she does want to uphold the laws of Hillsboro as she sees them. Both characters also recognize that they are essentially lone individuals against the weight of public opinion in the town—so even if they can prove a point, it will still be almost impossible to overcome the odds.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Do we call down hellfire on the man who has sinned against the Word? . . . Strike down this sinner, as Thou didst Thine enemies of old, in the days of the Pharaohs!
No! No, Father. Don’t pray to destroy Bert!

Related Characters: Rachel Brown (speaker), Reverend Jeremiah Brown (speaker), Bertram Cates
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeremiah Brown preaches a fire-and-brimstone sermon against Bert Cates and anyone in the town who dare to elevate science and go against the teachings of the Bible. This sermon draws into high relief the difference between Rachel's views and those of her father. Jeremiah Brown is rigid and close-minded in his beliefs, and believes that sinners must be dealt with harshly and punished with destruction and damnation. But Rachel, for her part, believes more in the Christian concepts of forgiveness and love. She refuses to accept the idea that Cates, a friend of hers for many years, is fundamentally immoral or deserving of such punishment. She instead wants to think that Cates has simply made a mistake—one for which he can atone. 

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Did you hear that, my friends? “Old World Monkeys”! According to Mr. Cates, you and I aren’t even descended from good American monkeys!

Related Characters: Matthew Harrison Brady (speaker), Bertram Cates
Related Symbols: Monkeys
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Brady riles up his crowd, indicating that Cates's scientific teachings are not only unreligious but unpatriotic. Drummond and Hornbeck believe that it is instances like this that show Brady is "playing to his audience," and is, perhaps, relying on the ignorance and pliability of those around him. Brady likes to speak in longwinded paragraphs, and he is unafraid to make a jarring statement such as this one (bringing up the idea of "monkeys" again in order to make his audience feel outraged and superior), if it means it will pull the sympathies of those around him to his side.

But Drummond believes that Brady ultimately does his audience a disservice by appealing to their emotions rather than their intellect. Brady seems not to want to consider that those around him are capable of thinking critically, on their own, about the relationship between science and religion. This is exactly the opposite of Cates's original intention of teaching his students to keep an open mind.

Tommy Stebbins used to come over to the boarding house and look through Bert’s microscope. Bert said the boy had a quick mind, and he might even be a scientist when he grew up. At the funeral, Pa preached that Tommy didn’t die in a state of grace, because his folks had never had him baptized . . . .
Tell ‘em what your father really said! That Tommy’s soul was damned, writhing in hellfire!

Related Characters: Bertram Cates (speaker), Rachel Brown (speaker), Reverend Jeremiah Brown, Tommy Stebbins
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Rachel's testimony here indicates several facets of Bert Cates's character, and of his relationship to others in the town. Cates believed it was important to encourage scientific speculation on the part of his students. But the case of Tommy Stebbins is an important one, as both Cates and Rachel recognize, because Stebbins's untimely death is viewed, among the religious community of Hillsboro, as a tragic case of a death without the promise of religious salvation, rather than a case of a promising young student and scientific investigator passing away. Furthermore, Reverend Brown's harsh reaction to Tommy's death paints the religious absolutism that Cates wants to avoid in a damning light—as it seems shockingly cruel to preach at a child's funeral and declare that the child is now being tortured in Hell.

Cates has hoped to stoke a fire of scientific inquiry in his students, but he also realizes that this is difficult in a town where a great many other factors—including the state of one's soul before death—are still considered deeply important.

“God created Man in His own image—and Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.”

Related Characters: Rachel Brown (speaker), Bertram Cates
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Rachel is reporting something that Cates once said to her. Before this Rachel was worried, of course, and expressed to Drummond her fear of having to incriminate her friend. But Rachel also believes in telling the truth, and though Cates's comments to her were probably in jest—for it is never made certain just what Cates really thinks of Christian religion as a moral system—they appear to the courtroom to be an indicator of Cates's lack of concern for Christian teaching.

Cates's comments indicate that he is, at minimum, willing to critique the ideas set forward in the Bible and in the church in Hillsboro. This alone should not be enough to convict him. But Brady has created an atmosphere in the town where any kind of deviation from the Christian norm ought to be considered suspect. 

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Bert, whenever you see something bright, shining, perfect-seeming—all gold, with purple spots—look behind the paint! And if it’s a lie—show it up for what it really is!

Related Characters: Henry Drummond (speaker), Bertram Cates
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond makes a distinction here between appearance and reality, as Cates waits to hear the verdict against him. For Drummond, it is important always to investigate the root causes of any particular event. Sometimes a thing might seem perfect, moral, and upright, but might have behind it baser human motivations. Drummond believes that Brady is not a bad person, but that Brady has become caught up in his own crusade, in his own popular image. And, according to Drummond, this has caused Brady to use religious teaching to further his own public fame.

Thus Drummond encourages Cates, and members of the audience watching the play, to continually question authority and probe beneath the "shiny" surface of things—to not accept teachings that just appear plausible, but rather to be objective and to think for oneself.

The jury’s decision is unanimous. Bertram Cates is found guilty as charged!

Related Characters: The Judge (speaker), Bertram Cates
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

The judge has, from the beginning, seemed to take Brady's side against Drummond and Cates, and the "justice" involved in the trial has seemed far from objective. Cates has never really felt that he would win the trial, but he and Drummond have each hoped that their side would be, at least, vindicated—that in the larger media swirl surrounding the case, their belief in scientific rationality and open-mindedness might be seem to prevail over religious absolutism.

But there is still the matter of the courtroom, the judge, and the jury. The jury is, after all, composed of people who live in Hillsboro, and the town has had a problem with Cates's teachings from the start. Thus the verdict is no great surprise, but Cates nevertheless might hope, at this point, that his side will "win out" in the national conversation about the events in Hillsboro. 

I feel I am . . . I have been convicted of violating an unjust law. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can.

Related Characters: Bertram Cates (speaker)
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Cates restates, to the crowd in the courtroom and to the audience, the fundamental position he has taken throughout the play. Cates is not a revolutionary—he does not wish to destroy the legal and educational systems as they are. He is not against religion or Christianity in the abstract. But he believes that there are realms better explained by science than by religion—that religion cannot be absolute force defining all humans' lives, especially the modern lives of the 20th century. 

Cates thus argues that he has done a moral thing by defending what he believes to be right, even in the face of public opinion and local law. Cates believes that the law can deviate from what is morally correct. In instances where this happens, a citizen has an obligation to follow his own moral compass, as Cates says he has done. 

I’ll tell you Brady had the same right as Cates: the right to be wrong!

Related Characters: Henry Drummond (speaker), Bertram Cates
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond summarizes his position effectively in this final statement, in which he again attacks the seemingly unassailable public persona of Brady. The "right to be wrong" is, for Drummond, paramount, because the right to be wrong is bound up in the right to think for oneself. No one would do this kind of thinking if he or she were afraid of being taken to trial for an incorrect belief.

Drummond believes, instead, that more conversation is needed between parties—and that some kind of compromise ought to be reached, wherein intolerance of all forms is quashed, and free thinking is always allowed. Thus science could be taught in scientific classrooms in school without disrupting religious systems with open-minded practitioners. 

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Bertram Cates Character Timeline in Inherit the Wind

The timeline below shows where the character Bertram Cates appears in Inherit the Wind. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
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...level, asking for a man named Mr. Meeker, the town bailiff. Rachel asks to see Bert Cates, a teacher imprisoned in the court jail, and asks also that Meeker not tell... (full context)
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Cates is happy to see Rachel, but believes she has put herself in a difficult position... (full context)
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Rachel tells Cates that Matthew Harrison Brady, the “second most-powerful man in America, after the President,” is coming... (full context)
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Rachel reminds Cates that there is a law against teaching evolution, and Cates says he knew about that... (full context)
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Meeker remarks to Cates, when the two are alone, that Meeker voted for Brady for President twice (Brady has... (full context)
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A man named Hornbeck, a reporter from the same Baltimore paper to which Cates has written, walks on-stage. Mrs. Krebs asks if he has a “clean” place to stay,... (full context)
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...and says he has come for two reasons: to defend the “Word of God” against Cates’ “attack” on that Word, by the teaching of evolution; and to defend the state’s law... (full context)
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...with whom he is partnered in the prosecution—Brady vows to work with him to punish Cates. A luncheon has been prepared for Mr. and Mrs. Brady, and Mrs. Brady warns Brady... (full context)
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Brady, after eating, asks the crowd whether Cates is a “criminal by nature.” Rachel, who emerges from the sea of townspeople, answers that... (full context)
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A townsperson asks Davenport who the defense attorney representing Cates will be; Davenport confesses he does not yet know, but he thinks this attorney will... (full context)
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...conversation he has had with Rachel—Brady implies that Rachel has given him key insight into Cates’ character, but Rachel looks nervous as to the information she has shared with Brady. Brady... (full context)
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...to speak with her. He shows a draft of an article he has written about Cates to Rachel—Rachel seems surprised that Hornbeck is on “Bert’s side” in the trial. Rachel says... (full context)
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But Rachel tells Hornbeck that Cates, as a teacher, is a public servant, and public servants ought to do as the... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
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...The Judge is seated before the court: Brady sits with Davenport and Drummond sits with Cates. Rachel sits nervously in the courtroom, and Hornbeck is perched on a ledge, observing all.... (full context)
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...“runs the feed store.” Sillers had also not heard of Darwin before the brouhaha surrounding Cates. (full context)
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As people file out of the courtroom, Rachel comes up to Drummond and Cates, and tells Drummond that he and Cates should “call the whole thing off” and announce... (full context)
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Drummond asks Cates if he’d really like to quit—Cates admits he had no idea his teaching of evolution... (full context)
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But Drummond counters that he cares about Cates and Cates’ opinions, and that he has taken the case because he feels Cates’ actions... (full context)
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Although Rachel wants Cates to throw in the towel, Cates, after thinking for a moment, agrees with Drummond that... (full context)
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Cates, as he’s being led away by Meeker, implies that the questions he asked in Rachel’s... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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...will be punished and destroyed by God. Rachel yells to her father not to damn Cates, as he is implying, to Hell, but Brown plows on, asking God to curse Cates... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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...scene opens in the courtroom, two days later; Brady is examining Howard, a student of Cates’, at the witness stand. Howard testifies that Cates taught, in class, that: millions of years... (full context)
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...one’s right to think is not on trial in the courtroom, but Drummond counters that Cates’ right to think is in fact on trial. Drummond then rephrases, and asks Howard if... (full context)
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...states that Hillsboro in general wishes to impose one theory of truth on a man, Cates, who chooses to think otherwise about the nature of the earth’s creation. (full context)
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...Judge, and Rachel is brought to testify. Brady begins questioning her, asking if she and Cates attend the same church. Rachel responds that Cates has not gone to church for two... (full context)
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Cates, impassioned in the courtroom, yells out that religion is supposed to provide comfort—he is still... (full context)
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Brady then questions Rachel about some of the things Cates said to her, in private, regarding the nature of God and religion. Drummond objects that... (full context)
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Rachel admits that Cates said to her, once, that “God created man in his image—and man, being a gentleman,... (full context)
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Although Drummond wishes to cross-examine Rachel, Rachel is so upset that Cates asks Drummond simply to let her leave the box, which Drummond does. Davenport and the... (full context)
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Drummond has “hit a roadblock,” and though he believes that Cates’ right to teach evolution would be bolstered by a testimony of the scientific basis for... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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...and Drummond, asking them how they feel about the trial—but both men ignore the reporter. Cates then asks Drummond what will happen to him—how the trial will end. Drummond says that... (full context)
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...time, it split in two—underneath its shiny veneer, the wood was “all rotten.” Drummond tells Cates that it’s always important to reveal lies for what they are—nice stories on the outside,... (full context)
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...ought to let things “simmer” a while and consider making his verdict rather lenient, if Cates is in fact convicted. The Mayor leaves. (full context)
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...verdict is about to be delivered. The jury foreman reports that the jury has found Cates, unanimously, guilty of the charges against him. Hornbeck shouts out that the court, and the... (full context)
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Cates says that he is only a schoolteacher, no good at public speaking, but that he... (full context)
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Cates asks Drummond, after the Brady crisis has calmed in the courtroom, what will happen to... (full context)
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Rachel also arrives and speaks to Cates, saying that she is leaving her father’s house, and wishes to go with Cates wherever... (full context)
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Drummond then says to Cates and to Rachel that he ought to be going, and when Cates says he can... (full context)