Inherit the Wind

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Inherit the Wind, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
David vs. Goliath Theme Icon

Inherit the Wind contains an overlapping network of characters perceiving themselves to be underdogs (or “Davids,” in the Biblical story of David and Goliath), who pit themselves against more powerful figures of authority (“Goliaths”). Bertram Cates is the novel’s first “David.” He has placed himself in opposition to the law of his state, for the sake of an idea—that science ought to be taught in a science classroom. If Cates is a David, then, the whole of the state, and especially Brady, are the Goliaths to which he is opposed. And Brady is, physically, a Goliath—he eats prodigiously, speaks loudly, and wins over audiences with torrents of words. But Brady compares himself to David (I.1), saying that Drummond, his opposition, is Goliath, since Drummond is a successful attorney himself, who has managed to succeed in the courtroom against overwhelming odds.

Drummond, for his part, seems also in the position of an underdog, once the trial proceeding gets underway. The Judge, in the beginning, appears to take the prosecution’s side, and does not allow Drummond to call expert witnesses in the sciences. Rachel is an “underdog” as regards her relationship with her father, the fiery preacher Reverend Brown, who is the town’s serious religious “authority.” After the trial, when Cates is convicted but fined only a paltry amount, Rachel decides to leave her father, and Hillsboro, with Cates, starting a new life elsewhere. She therefore escapes her father’s religious and moral authority.

In the Biblical story, David conquers Goliath through his ingenuity. In the play, too, the “underdogs” tend to triumph, although only the “true” underdogs. In other words, Brady turns out not to be a “David” figure after all—he, a clear Goliath of American religion and politics, appears ridiculous on the stand, and after the trial, when the verdict is reported, almost no time is reserved for Brady’s speech. Brady then dies, unexpectedly, and Drummond, though happy that Brady’s views have been shown to be ridiculous and erroneous, nevertheless celebrates the strength of his opponent’s belief. Cates, for his part, has “lost” the trial but won the war—his views have been made public, and championed, through Drummond’s efforts and Hornbeck’s reporting.

More broadly, the opposition of “underdog” and “authority” is shown to be too simplistic, by the play’s end. Each side tends to conceive of itself as the “underdog”—Christians believe they are in the minority; followers of Darwinian evolution believe the whole country has lined up against them. In truth, Cates, Drummond, and many Americans in the fictional world of the play, and in the US after the Scopes Trial, fall (or fell) between these two camps—they believe in religion and think science ought to be taught in schools. These are not relationships of underdogs and authorities—rather, in the play and in American life, there are two complementary systems, religious and scientific, each coexisting with the other.

David vs. Goliath ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of David vs. Goliath appears in each scene of Inherit the Wind. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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David vs. Goliath Quotes in Inherit the Wind

Below you will find the important quotes in Inherit the Wind related to the theme of David vs. Goliath.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

I understand your loyalty, my child. This man, the man in your jailhouse, is a fellow schoolteacher. Likeable, no doubt. And you are loath to speak out against him before all these people. Think of me as a friend, Rachel. And tell me what troubles you.

Related Characters: Matthew Harrison Brady (speaker), Rachel Brown
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Matthew Harrison Brady, the famous public speaker and former presidential candidate, has pulled Rachel aside during his grand entrance into the town, for he has heard that Rachel is close with Cates, the man whom Brady is to prove guilty of breaking the law. Brady here performs a kind of performance of empathy, pretending that he respects Rachel for her unwillingness to speak ill of Cates. But Brady, as will be shown later in the play, is perhaps not so understanding as he initially seems. Brady does in fact believes that Cates is morally wrong to teach evolution, and he wants Rachel, whose father is the town's influential minister, to be on his, Brady's, side in the matter. He will use his prodigious charm to this effect.

Rachel, for her part, tries to be polite to all parties, but she does not waver in her support for her friend—despite the fact that he is being prosecuted by a man as famous and powerful as Brady. Rachel is loyal to Cates even when she does not agree with everything Cates does—in other words, she can separate the deed from the person. Brady, though he promotes himself as a Christian, is less able to extend this compassion and empathy to others. 


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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

Does Mr. Drummond refuse this man [Dunlap] a place on the jury simply because he believes in the Bible?
If you find an Evolutionist in this town, you can refuse him.

Related Characters: Matthew Harrison Brady (speaker), Henry Drummond (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond and Brady debate the composition of the jury before the start of the trial. Drummond argues that any Christians who openly profess their beliefs might be too prejudiced to serve on the jury—that is, they might be inclined to believe that Cates broke the law without considering the facts of the case. Brady counters that it would be difficult to find people who are not believers in the Bible in the town of Hillsboro—and he does so in his usual manner of speaking, appealing to the idea of the "good Christian American," and assuming that believing in the Bible isn't any kind of prejudice or anomaly, but is something everyone should do. To many of the people involved in the case (like Brady), morality and justice are inseparable from Christian belief, so there really isn't such a thing as secular justice, and excluding a jury member because he is a Christian seems absurd.

To this, Drummond responds that Brady could willingly exclude from the jury any "Evolutionists" in the town. Of course, Drummond knows he is far less likely to find such a person in Hillsboro. (This fact also points to the weight of local opinion against Cates, and how unlikely it is that he'll be found innocent.) But his point still stands—there is no one in Hillsboro who is "outside" this debate, as it concerns religion, science, and the way these two systems interact in the schools. 

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.

Can they make me testify?
I’m afraid so. It would be nice if nobody ever had to make anybody do anything. But—Don’t let Brady scare you. He only seems to be bigger than the law.

Related Characters: Rachel Brown (speaker), Henry Drummond (speaker), Matthew Harrison Brady
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond reassures Rachel before she might be called to the witness stand. Drummond knows that Brady is a very effective advocate in the courtroom, and that he can be intimidating to a witness. He is a nationally famous figure, his speeches tend to arouse the sympathies of large crowds, and his Christian apologist stance plays well among small towns in the middle of the country, where Christian beliefs are still strong and are interwoven with a powerful patriotism.

Even here, however, Drummond does not demonize Brady the way that Hornbeck does. Drummond believes that Brady advocates for his views occasionally too avidly, but Drummond does not believe these views to be ignorant and destructive. This fact will be important later in the play, when Drummond makes clear to the audience that Brady, though flawed, was not a bad man. 

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

I know it’s warm, Matt; but these night breezes can be treacherous. And you know how you perspire.

Related Characters: Mrs. Brady (speaker), Matthew Harrison Brady
Related Symbols: The Wind
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an instance of foreshadowing, in which Mrs. Brady tells her husband to be careful not to exert himself too much in the heat. Interestingly enough, a cooling breeze might be useful for Brady, who has more trouble in the heat than he does in a particularly windy situation. Nevertheless, "breeze" and "wind" are concepts strongly connected to Brady—his speeches tend to be on the "windier" side, and Hornbeck believes that Brady might be nothing more than "hot air," a speaker who cares more about his reputation than he does about the "common people" he champions.

Brady is therefore a complex character—seemingly invulnerable, but physically more frail than those around him.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

In this community, Colonel Drummond . . . the language of the law is clear; we do not need experts to question the validity of a law that is already on the books.
In other words, the court rules out any expert testimony on Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species or Descent of Man?
The court so rules.

Related Characters: Henry Drummond (speaker), The Judge (speaker)
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

The Judge does not permit any scientist to testify as to the accuracy of the theory of evolution by natural selection. This unwillingness to even consider evidence that might bolster Cates's position is an indicator of just how far the deck is stacked against Cates. Cates's entire argument, indeed, is predicated on the idea that one ought to teach evolution in school because evolution, as Darwin developed the theory, is good science. Christian teachings are not science at all—they are a system that deals not in the objective but in the subjective, and therefore they ought to be part of a theological or philosophical course instead.

But the judge here argues that "good" and "bad" science are irrelevant, and the only thing that matters is if science goes against the rules of the school board. Thus the experts cannot testify, and an objective kind of justice is again compromised in the trial.

Now tell me. Do you feel that every word that’s written in this book should be taken literally?
Everything in the Bible should be accepted, exactly as it is given there.

Related Characters: Matthew Harrison Brady (speaker), Henry Drummond (speaker)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond, recognizing that he has little chance of actually winning the case, still wants to prove a point and get to the bottom of Brady's ideas in the courtroom. Brady argues that the Bible is literal truth—that is does not set up metaphorical expectations on the part of the reader, but that it instead ought to be understood literally and at face value. Drummond will go on to show that this simply cannot be true, however—there are items in the Bible too fantastical or contradictory to be believed, and the "truth" of the Bible cannot be so inflexible as to be exactly what is found, literally, in the pages of the book.

But Drummond is making a larger point, too—that any too-narrow or too-literal framework for interpretation, in any moral system, is bound to be a failure. Drummond argues that it is precisely in our human nature to question, to prod, to ask whether "the truth" is really always true. 

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

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. 

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart.
We’re growing an odd crop of agnostics this year!

Related Characters: E. K. Hornbeck (speaker), Henry Drummond (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wind
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond quotes from the Bible (the text which gives the play its title), and Hornbeck is surprised to hear that Drummond is willing to find any wisdom in that text. This draws the significant difference between these two men. For Drummond, the Bible can be a source of real ethical teaching, and a source of spiritual power for those who believe in it. The problem comes when the Bible is trotted out to prove one's personal arguments or vendettas, or to keep people from thinking on their own—in other words, to quash the independence of spirit.

Indeed, Hornbeck's unwillingness to consider the position of those who are accepting of religion—who are believers or agnostics but not absolutists—is in a way just as dogmatic as Brady's position. Drummond believes this to be true, and the playwrights make it clear that Hornbeck's position is as blinkered as Brady's.

Within the actual Bible quote itself, the writers again bring up the concept of wind. Here the symbol represents both wind as a kind of emptiness—the result of turning against truth or basic compassion and clinging to absolutism—but also as a kind of wind of change, bringing in new ideas to the public—as this trial hopefully will do.

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. 

You see, I haven’t really thought very much. I was always afraid of what I might think—so it seemed safer not to think at all. But now I know. A thought is like a child inside our body. It has to be born. If it dies inside you, part of you dies, too!

Related Characters: Rachel Brown (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Rachel acknowledges to herself, Cates, and the audience that she has grown in her thinking on the subject of religion. Before, she believed that religious teachings should be followed because they represented authority—either the authority of her own father, or of the church and school board. But Rachel has now finally come around to Cates's position, and believes that one must think for oneself at all times.

It's important to note that this does not mean that religion ought to be discarded, that science should explain everything in the world, and that believers should be ridiculed, as Hornbeck argues. Instead, Rachel finds that she, Cates, and Drummond can all agree that free thought and the pursuit of truth is the foundation of human experience. If people are taught to think for themselves, then a greater conversation about right and wrong, true and false—with shades between—can be had in a community, for the benefit of all.