Morality and the Aspect of Love in 'Inherit the Wind'

Lawrence and Lee uncover the question in the audiences personal life, highlighting the question, how does the play speak to the struggle of the individual versus larger society? Drummond uses an allegory, a very personal moment, to try and get Brady to buy in emotionally, as the audience sees the pathos aspect shine. He appeals to the emotions of the town, jury, and judge by showing Bertram Cates as a human being, making the residents of Hillsboro remember that he is scared and worried, and he is just like them. Therefore, Drummond siezes the opportunity to make them feel pity. 

The playwrights hit on the topic of man versus society in Inherit the Wind, having Cates challenge the law and, with it, the norms of Hillsboro society. Facing disfavor from the townspeople, he nonetheless decides to persevere in his cause. Describing his feelings of isolation, Cates explains to Drummond, “People look at me as if I was a murderer. Worse than a murderer!” Drummond, who has learned from his years as a criminal-defense attorney, along with his own struggles as an agnostic and an advocate for unpopular causes, empathizes with Cates. As Drummond says, “It’s the loneliest feeling in the world—to find yourself standing up when everybody else is sitting down.” 

Both Cates and Drummond experience a struggle against mainstream society. The older and more experienced Drummond comforts Cates with his knowledge that individuals make progress for all of society when they courageously pursue the truth regardless of others’ opinions. At the end of the play, when the court announces the verdict, Drummond says to Cates, “You don’t suppose this kind of thing is ever finished, do you? Tomorrow it’ll be something else, and another fella will have to stand up. And you’ve helped give him the guts to do it!” As Drummond implies, individuals throughout history have challenged societal norms by forcing society to rethink its assumptions. Historical movements appropriate the energy of these individuals to revolutionize society. 

Although Brady and Reverend Brown are charismatic public figures, they fail to present themselves as individuals. Rather, they hide behind the Bible and hold themselves up as symbols of society itself. Their efforts to staunch free thought and repress new ideas are anti-individualistic. They maintain order in Hillsboro by scaring people out of having their own opinions and ideas. As the store owner admits, such individual attitudes are “bad for business.” Ultimately, however, Brady’s and Brown’s fear tactics come up short. Although they technically win the case against Cates, the defense clearly achieves its goal, opening the minds of Hillsboro’s townspeople, relating directly to the two cartoons provided. Continuing to understand the authors clear bias in regards to agape love, Rachel mentions, “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!” 

At the end of act three, while conversing with Cates and Drummond, Rachel expresses her newfound appreciation for freedom of thought. In doing so, she addresses one of the most important lessons of Inherit the Wind. In the playwrights’ view, ignorance and fear combine to create conservative, fundamentalist value systems, like the one we see in the Hillsboro townspeople’s initial attitudes toward evolution. People cannot accept new ideas if they are not exposed to new ideas. Authority figures like Brady and Reverend Brown repress new, unorthodox thinking out of fear that unconventional ideas might disrupt the social order that they command. Over the course of the trial, Rachel overcomes this ignorance and fear of individual thought and combines this transformation with romantic feelings for Cates. This change in Rachel demonstrates the power of thought and of love, as ethics and morality is meant to evoke how we deal with our own thought process. The playwrights expose what the fundamental conflict expressed in inherit the wind is, that being, fundamentalism versus freedom of thought. Although the trial in Inherit the Wind concerns the battle between creationism and evolutionism, a deeper conflict exists beneath the surface. Drummond points to this more basic issue when he asks his young witness Howard whether he believes in Darwin. When the boy responds that he hasn’t made up his mind, Drummond insists that the boy’s freedom to think, to make up his own mind, is what is actually on trial. The creationists in the play, who adhere to rigid, fundamental Christian doctrines, are a conservative force that has prescribed for Hillsboro society how their minds should be made up. Their conservatism is rooted in fear. The most adamant creationists, Brady and Reverend Brown, occupy positions of authority at the top of the social order, and their primary motivation is to maintain this control over that social order. Like Darwinism, which questions the religious foundation of that social order, new, progressive ideas present a threat to the creationists’ status as leaders. Drummond, Hornbeck, and Cates, though they maintain respectable positions within society, attorney, journalist, and teacher, respectively, are more interested in the truth than in maintaining their own social status. Their willingness to stand by their own judgments even as they call those judgments to question indicates their self-reliance, a trait that is notably absent in Brown and Brady, who lean instead on the legitimacy gained by their status as religious leaders. Brown, for instance, uses fire-and-brimstone sermons to root out dissent in the Hillsboro community and within his own family. The obedience he demands of the community is the opposite of freedom. In contrast, the questioning that Cates practices, and encourages, promotes free thinking, which opens new paths to progress. Throughout these quotes, Drummond shows the ultimate point, that judging someone based on their socioeconomic status or their supposed intelligence, is boiled down to silliness, because the reality is that what we don’t know is so massive compared to what we do know. As Shakespeare said, “Fools believe themselves to be wise men, wise men know themselves to be fools.” As we see in Dummond’s argument against Brady, the more certain somebody is about their answer and the less nuance they have to it, the less they actually know. 

However we see Drummond presents an alternative, that being, the less certain a person is about their answer the more they actually know and the more nuance they see, making them have trouble articulating a simple answer to something. At this point, the playwrights pose a paradox that we have, where certainty usually means a lack of understanding, because nothing is as simple as it is made out to be. However the problem is halted when we come into terms with declaratives presented in the Bible, such as John 14:6, which reads, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This passage prompts the questions, how many of us as believers agree with each other on all the issues? Is that because we are all wrong or because some of us are wrong? Can society really understand an infinite, omnipresent God as a finite singular being? Lawrence and Lee provide the answer that we are trying. Drummond uses the power of words, in logos, pathos, and ethos rhetoric aspects, to disprove Brady’s argument, hinting that it does not matter what you say, it is the conveyance, body language, and tone. As Winston Churchill said, when he sent a letter declaring war on Germany to Hitler, “Sir, when you are going to kill a man it costs you nothing to be polite.” To that end, what Christians say and what Christians do matters about the vibe we send into our world, and how we say it. As Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

As Drummond uncovers, the trespass is in the mind before we ever utter the phrase, meaning that, if hate is murder, and you mean something hateful you mean to harm, therefore having already committed murder before you ever utter the word. However, now the playwrights have provided a clear question, how do we police that? Through the residents of hillsboro, society is seen running around policing externalities, things that you say and do because it is easy, relating to Proverbs 26:11, which says “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Symbolizing the trap that Paul mentions, being that society does not do the thing that they want to do, and rather do the things society tries to avoid. This brings up the question, are there things that are objectively offensive? The playwrights make it seem that this has a simple solution, however when discovering the use of rhetoric in regards to agape love, there is an ultimate complexity to this topic. Drummond uncovers the question, who gets to govern what is offensive and what is not, providing the answer that the only thing we can control is our inner perspective, but providing the warning set out in 1 Peter 2:11, saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” The difficulty that stems from this perspective is that you are now responsible for millions of complicated problems. Meaning that choices cost you, as it taxes you mentally and physically, which is why, without our knowledge, we admire routine. 

The playwrights subtly imply that cognitive dissonance is painful, that learning and change hurts and that it is literally an expression of the pain that it requires to think your way through things. When society has an unresolvable problem, it keeps revisiting itself upon them emotionally, and if they cannot come to a straightforward solution, they will never get away from it. Drummond mentions that it is about fundamentals, which are hard enough to understand. The ideal of loving, and respectfulness when others do not love back is precisely the point highlighted. Inherit the Wind encompasses the Golden Rule to it's furthest, providing the moral to live by, that doing unto others what we would have them do unto us, and then begging forgiveness when we screw up. The world is a hospital for the broken, not a place of perfection. Through Greek rhetorical devices, Lawrence and Lee make clear that agape love is omnipotent and overcomes the evil that we encompass, trying to convict us of God's saving grace and how none of us measure up to his authority and justice.

07 July 2022
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