Inherit the Wind

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Oratory, Performance, and Public Speaking Theme Analysis

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.
Oratory, Performance, and Public Speaking Theme Icon

The play dramatizes oratory, performance, and public speaking as means of persuasion. The play’s most notable orator is Brady, famous for his grand speeches and his presidential campaigns. Brady’s speeches, in favor of “old-time” Christian values, are well-received by Hillsboro residents in the beginning of the play, but as the trial goes on, Drummond eventually gains the upper hand. Specifically, when Brady is called to the stand, and when Drummond cross-examines him regarding the literal truth in the Bible, Brady appears to splutter, and to offer no coherent explanation of how the Bible provides verifiable truth. Drummond, then, has used his own techniques of performance—which include a sarcastic and joking manner—to best his “champion speaker” colleague, and to win the approval of the town, if not the jury. The third of the four major public speakers, or writers, in the play is Reverend Brown, Rachel’s father, who gives a fiery sermon, at night, outside the courthouse—one so inflammatory, and so strident in its criticism of Cates and Drummond, that it causes even Brady to blush, and to preach that Christianity is not so much concerned with punishment as with forgiveness. Brown’s oratory is mostly designed to intimidate, whereas Brady’s is designed to cajole and persuade, as is Drummond’s. Finally, Hornbeck, the reporter, is the play’s “chorus,” or observer who comments on the action of the play from a position somewhat removed from “center-stage.” Hornbeck’s commentary, which praises Cates and his resolve in fighting the state’s anti-evolution law, provide a sharply secular viewpoint, contrasting with Brady’s pro-Christianity, anti-evolution stance.

After Brady’s death, however, Drummond does not agree fully with Hornbeck—Drummond does not take the view that Brady was merely an antic-science buffoon. Instead, Drummond takes a more nuanced view, in his final speech, arguing that it is exactly Brady’s passion in arguing his cause that makes Brady a good man, if not always a correct one. Drummond respects Brady for his moral courage in expressing his views, just as he respects Cates for initially teaching evolution in the classroom, and for standing up for his beliefs.

In the end, the play privileges a kind of persuasive public speaking in which people stand up, courageously, for what they believe in—for people who argue based on fact and good reasoning, even if to argue, ultimately, for a compromise, as between freedom of religion and the freedom to teach science. In this sense, Drummond and Cates and Brady are all exemplars of noble public speaking, each according to his own manner. And Reverend Brown, along with Hornbeck, is motivated only by a desire to stir up and manipulate people’s emotions.

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Oratory, Performance, and Public Speaking ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Inherit the Wind related to the theme of Oratory, Performance, and Public Speaking.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

The unplumbed and plumbing-less depths! Ah, Hillsboro—Heavenly Hillsboro. The buckle on the Bible Belt.

Related Characters: E. K. Hornbeck (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Hornbeck, speaking here in an aside to the audience, helps to set the stage for the trial, defining Hillsboro as a town concerned primarily with Christian teaching, and therefore, according to him, a backward place. Hornbeck believes that many in Hillsboro are not interested in open-mindedness or pushing beyond the received wisdom they have learned in Sunday School—that, for example, the world was created in six days, or that God has a plan for every person. Hornbeck considers these ideas ridiculous, and has no guilt about poking fun at those in Hillsboro who cling so tightly to religious teachings in the face of scientific reason.

Thus Hillsboro, for Hornbeck, is "heavenly" only because it is obsessed with religion in an age that, by Hornbeck's logic, has left religion behind. He uses the word "heavenly" not to praise Hillsboro, but rather to mock it. This sarcastic compliment, as well as his other jokes (like assuming that the town is so stuck in the past that it lacks plumbing), offer examples of Hornbeck's sharp, witty rhetorical style as he acts like a kind of "chorus," commenting on the action to the audience.


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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. 

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. 

Well, I’m pretty busy down at the feed store. My wife tends to the religion for both of us.
In other words, you take care of this life, and your wife takes care of the next one?

Related Characters: Henry Drummond (speaker), George Sillers (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond examines George Sillers in the witness box toward the beginning of the trial, to see if he can be a part of the jury. Drummond is making the point that there are some people in Hillsboro for whom religion is more of a background concern, and less of a primary one. Brady's religious posturing has been ostentatious and over-the-top, and Rachel's father teaches plainly that religion is of the utmost importance in people's lives, but here Drummond implies here that these are not necessarily the views of everyone in town.

The logic of Drummond's point is powerful. If there are those in town for whom religion is not the defining feature of life and law, then there are people who might be more open to the teaching of evolution in the schools, as Cates has done. 

I’ve seen what you can do to a jury. Twist and tangle them. Nobody’s forgotten the Endicott Publishing case—where you made the jury believe the obscenity was in their own minds, not on the printed page.

Related Characters: Matthew Harrison Brady (speaker), Henry Drummond
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Brady argues that Drummond is well known for "influencing" juries, either by selecting certain "prejudicial" groups to fill them, or by keeping others, who might go against Drummond's beliefs, away from them. For Brady, there is no difference between tolerating some conversation between religion and science (on the one hand) and wholly supporting science (on the other). Brady believes, or at least advocates in his speeches, that religion is bound up in the character of the country, and in its small towns—that America is great because it is a Christian country.

But Drummond has a different view of things. He believes that people ought to be able to make up their own minds—and although he does wish to keep ardent Christians off the jury, he does so, by his own logic, to make room for people who are least willing to consider the other side, Cates's side, of the case. In general, Drummond is the advocate for a more secular, unbiased kind of justice, while Brady appeals to a justice of emotion of popular opinion.

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.

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.

Let’s put it this way, Howard. All this fuss and feathers about Evolution, do you think it hurt you any?
Did it do you any harm? You still feel reasonably fit? Did it hurt your baseball game any? Affect your pitching arm?
No, sir. I’m a leftie.

Related Characters: Henry Drummond (speaker), Howard (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond indicates, via his subtle interrogation of Howard, that the notion of a grand debate between religion and science is in many ways a construct, a falsity that is played out in the public eye, but that does not affect the day-to-day lives of the town in a significant way. For religious belief, Drummond implies, is an important method of orienting oneself toward the moral universe. With that said, religious belief has no effect on something practical like a baseball game—or, by this logic, on scientific realms, such as the objective study of the origin of human beings.

Drummond makes plain that there can be religion in American society in the twentieth century, but there cannot be religious absolutism. Modern society does not function if all is subordinated to religious belief. But religion can be a significant part of the moral systems of American communities, and can coexist with more "worldly" matters like baseball or scientific study.

One of the peculiar imbecilities of our time is the grid of morality we have placed on human behavior: so that every act of man must be measured against an arbitrary latitude of right and longitude of wrong . . . .

Related Characters: Henry Drummond (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Drummond here eloquently argues before the court that there are some moral laws imposed on human behavior "from without." Drummond clearly believes that religion is capable of "overstepping" its bounds. One instance of this is, of course, in the classroom evolution debate, where the Biblical notion of the conception of human life has no scientific or observable basis. But Drummond is speaking, more broadly, about the way in which people like Brady use religious teachings to divide the world into good and bad, right and wrong. It is this closed-minded moral "grid" that angers Drummond.

One way out of the "grid" mentality is to accept that people are, instead, somewhere in between good and bad—that there are gray areas between. Likewise, one shouldn't necessarily accept the absolute truth of any belief system, but should always remain open-minded and questioning. 

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. 

Is that the way of things? God tells Brady what is good? To be against Brady is to be against God!

Related Characters: Henry Drummond (speaker), Matthew Harrison Brady
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Drummond finds a weak spot in Brady's argument. Because if the Bible is the word of God, and if Brady is the one doing his own reading of the Bible, then really the word of God is Brady's word. Drummond uses this as an opportunity to show just how important public speaking, and reputation, are to Brady. He paints Brady as a kind of megalomaniac, a man claiming to speak directly for God—and this sort of pride is, at best, un-Christian.

Drummond does not appear to have a personal grudge against Brady, but he does object a great deal to Brady's opinions. Drummond's belief system is predicated on the idea that no one person can know everything, and that the world is far more complex than we, as humans, might like it to be. Certainties are hard to come by. But for Brady, certainty is an essential part of his experience—and he likes explaining his certainties to others. 

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.

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.