Inherit the Wind

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Tommy Stebbins Character Analysis

A young boy whom Cates taught, and who demonstrated a great aptitude for science, Stebbins died of drowning, but was not given a formal funeral by Reverend Brown because Stebbins was not baptized. Cates found this choice especially cruel, ceased to attend church after it occurred, and argues in court that religion ought to be used to comfort, rather than denigrate, people.

Tommy Stebbins Quotes in Inherit the Wind

The Inherit the Wind quotes below are all either spoken by Tommy Stebbins or refer to Tommy Stebbins. 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 2, Scene 2 Quotes

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.

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Tommy Stebbins Character Timeline in Inherit the Wind

The timeline below shows where the character Tommy Stebbins appears in Inherit the Wind. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, Scene 2
Science vs. Religion Theme Icon
David vs. Goliath Theme Icon
Oratory, Performance, and Public Speaking Theme Icon
Morality, Justice, and Truth Theme Icon
Open-Mindedness vs. Closed-Mindedness Theme Icon
...that Cates has not gone to church for two years, ever since a boy named Tommy Stebbins accidentally drowned. Cates had been tutoring Stebbins in science and believed that Stebbins had... (full context)
Science vs. Religion Theme Icon
David vs. Goliath Theme Icon
Oratory, Performance, and Public Speaking Theme Icon
Morality, Justice, and Truth Theme Icon
Open-Mindedness vs. Closed-Mindedness Theme Icon
...to provide comfort—he is still angry for the discomfort and sadness that Brown’s judgment of Tommy, after Tommy’s death, caused Tommy’s family and others in Hillsboro. Brady asks that Cates’ interruption... (full context)