The scene opens as Hornbeck buzzes around Brady 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 the case is a long shot, for sure, and that Cates could very well go to prison.
Cates has realized, all along, that he might be punished severely for his beliefs, but only now, with the verdict so close to being delivered, does he appear somewhat afraid of what might happen to him. Cates might be commended for his stoicism thus far in the trial.
Drummond then tells a story from his childhood: his father, a working man, and his mother saved up money for a month to buy young Drummond a shiny purple and gold rocking horse, but when Drummond sat on his gift for the first 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, hiding something “rotten” inside.
A brief window into Drummond’s young life, delivered not for the sake of biography but rather to show that things appearing shiny and trustworthy—things like broad religious statements about God’s involvement in the life of humans—should always be investigated. Drummond here does not say that religion itself is complete bunk—only that religion must be investigated when it begins to make claims about scientific fact.
A radio man asks the Judge if the verdict can be broadcast live from the courtroom, and the Judge agrees. The Mayor comes to speak with the Judge and tells him, quietly, that Hillsboro is starting to make state and national news, and that the Judge ought to let things “simmer” a while and consider making his verdict rather lenient, if Cates is in fact convicted. The Mayor leaves.
The Mayor, who appeared so shy in earlier parts of the play, now realizes just what a guilty verdict and a harsh sentence might do to Hillsboro on the national scene—it might make the town seem incredibly “backward” and closed-minded in its unwillingness to take on the scientific theories of the day.
Meeker brings back the jury and the radio man announces, over the wires, that the Hillsboro Monkey Trial 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 town, have returned to the Middle Ages, and Drummond requests that Cates may be given the right to speak, briefly.
Although it seemed at least possible that Cates might succeed in his trial, the townspeople apparently could not come to terms with the idea that Cates was simply trying to teach science in a science classroom. Instead, the jury delivered a “just” verdict as far as the law on the books was concerned—the law barred teaching evolution, and Cates did just that.
Cates says that he is only a schoolteacher, no good at public speaking, but that he believes he has been convicted of an unjust law, and he plans to fight that conviction. He trails off, and the Judge announces that the punishment of Cates will be, simply, a $100 fine. Brady believes this punishment is far too light, but Drummond argues that Cates will never pay any fine, because he and Cates will fight the case to the Supreme Court.
Cates might be respected for once again vowing to stand up for his beliefs, even though at this point he has been defeated in a trial that has put his deepest-held beliefs on the line. The Judge’s light punishment, however, basically means that Cates will not be punished at all, and that he has “won” the trial by losing it. The Judge meanwhile, has found a way to make Hillsboro not backward even as the town upheld the law against evolution—his fine makes it clear that the law must be obeyed, but not too strictly.
Brady says that he has a few remarks, but Drummond and the Judge say that these remarks, for the town and broadcast over radio, can occur in the court after the trial ends. Melinda and Howard, together in the crowd, ask who won, and Howard says he does not know, but that the trial is certainly over.
It is exactly this confusion of winning and losing that makes it difficult for Howard and Melinda, and for others in the crowd, to understand what has happened. Only Drummond appears to recognize that Cates has lost the battle and won the war.
Brady begins making his remarks, but quickly the radio man shuts off the “enunciator,” saying that the Chicago station has cut to a different bit of news. Brady is stopped mid-speech and appears not to understand what is happening—people in the court also drift away from him as he attempts to continue. Suddenly, Brady has a terrible fit—the townspeople are alarmed—and Mrs. Brady worries that Brady might be dying. A doctor is called for, and Brady is carried quickly out of the court.
Brady makes an attempt to shore up his public image in Hillsboro and beyond, but the radio man’s cutting off of Brady’s speech just how far behind the times Brady is—the fact that Brady no longer appeals to the broad audience he once held in the Presidential elections of the past. He wants to be bigger than the trial; but the trial is bigger than him. Brady’s illness has been his wife’s concern throughout the play, and now in the shock of his sudden realization of his fall from prominence does it catch up to her husband.
As Brady is carried out, he begins reciting one of his “inaugural speeches,” stored in memory, from the three times he has run for, and lost, the Presidency. Drummond appears to feel sorry for this apoplectic Brady, as he is taken outside, but Hornbeck claims, in an aside to the audience, that Brady is nothing more than an overgrown child, accustomed to bullying others and getting his way, loudly.
Hornbeck seems to have no problem criticizing Brady immediately after Brady has fallen ill—meaning that Hornbeck himself is not overly concerned with the kind of basic morality and human concern that would characterize a more humane, and kindly person—like Drummond, or even Brady himself.
Cates asks Drummond, after the Brady crisis has calmed in the courtroom, what will happen to him. Cates believes he has lost, but Drummond tells him he’s won—that he’s “smashed a bad law.” Meeker announces that Cates can leave jail right now—that Hornbeck has put up the 500 dollars bail to allow him his freedom, compliments of the Baltimore Herald.
Cates realizes that he is now essentially free to go, and that he is free, also, to live the life he wants to lead—just away from Hillsboro. Drummond is happy that this has happened for Cates, and even more happy at the thought that the Hillsboro law has been shown to be ridiculous on the national stage.
Rachel also arrives and speaks to Cates, saying that she is leaving her father’s house, and wishes to go with Cates wherever he’s headed. Rachel tells Cates and Drummond that she’s still not sure whether she believes in what Darwin wrote, but Rachel now knows that it’s important to think for one’s self, and that Drummond has taught her that—to read for herself and make up her own mind.
Rachel has exactly the kind of revelation that Drummond has wanted the people of Hillsboro to have—she has realized just how important it is to think for herself. That Rachel is ready, also, to leave her strict father’s house indicates that her father has inherited only wind—he no longer has an intact family of which he can serve as lord and master in Hillsboro.
The Judge comes back in to announce that Brady has died. Drummond is greatly saddened by his death, but Hornbeck seems to rejoice, thinking that the world is rid of a loud, obnoxious man. But Drummond takes on Hornbeck, telling him Hornbeck has as much right to make of Brady’s religion as he does to make fun of Drummond’s non-religion—meaning no real right at all.
An important moment in the play. The audience has long since learned that Drummond is a more moderate thinker than they have been made, initially, to believe—and Drummond here shows that he is willing to separate a few of a man’s silly ideas from the overall greatness of his life.
Drummond then finds Brady’s Bible and the verse from Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart.” Drummond says that “there was greatness” in Brady, and when Hornbeck makes fun of Drummond, an agnostic, for quoting from the Bible, Drummond counters that Hornbeck is only a cynical critic, making fun of everything, without any ideas or morality of his own.
Drummond even goes so far as to repeat Brady’s own line from Proverbs regarding Brady’s life—for Brady believed that he had a special connection to God, and that caused him to believe he could dictate the morality of others. This vanity ultimately defeated Brady, and caused him to appear ridiculous to the country at large—he inherited the wind.
Hornbeck believes that Drummond is being too kind to Brady, but Drummond counters that Brady was simply a man who “was looking for God too high up and too far away.” Hornbeck says he is off to write a story of Drummond the hypocrite, the atheist who quotes the Bible—and Drummond tells him good riddance.
Drummond is a “good progressive” while Hornbeck is merely a “critic” who appears to be liberal and understanding. In reality, Hornbeck is just as closed-minded as the religious folks compared to whom he believes he is far superior, more intelligent, more “advanced.” His closed-mindedness is founded on his sense of being more open-minded than these people he sees as religious country bumpkins.
Drummond then says to Cates and to Rachel that he ought to be going, and when Cates says he can help Drummond pay for the appeal on Cates’ case, Drummond says he’s not in this case for the money. Rachel and Cates say they will go to the train station with Drummond, and they walk out together into the court square. Drummond, following behind, sees that Rachel left her copy of Darwin’s writings, and there is a copy of the Bible left on the Judge’s bench. Drummond takes each book, balances them in his hands “as if they’re scales,” and puts them side by side in his briefcase. Then he walks out, alone, into the square. The play ends.
An important final scene. Drummond takes great care to show that he is aware of the symbolic significance of both the Bible and of Darwin’s writings—but he does not cast aside the Bible entirely. Rather, he takes both books with him, showing that there is space in his own mind, and in his own heart, for the possibility of religious belief, at the very least for others, and for the reality of scientific advancement. This is a kind of modern, complex, and ultimately welcoming society that Drummond embraces, and which he feels to be distinctly “American.”