Study Guide

Inherit the Wind Summary

By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

Inherit the Wind Summary

Bert (But Not Ernie) Goes on Trial

Bert's the kind of guy your father warned you about—a rebel. But Rachel, a preacher's daughter, is kind of in love with her friend, Bert, anyway. She goes to visit him in jail. He seems like a nice enough guy, and he's not a dangerous criminal, after all.

Unless you count threatening an entire belief system as dangerous. In that case, he's almost a terrorist. See, his crime is teaching evolution in a public school, which is against the law. Rachel's father, Reverend Jeremiah Brown, is one of Bert's biggest opponents, and most of the townspeople follow the Reverend's lead.

Two important lawyers roll into town for Bert's high-profile trial. For the prosecution, there's Matthew Harrison Brady, a three-time presidential candidate (no-time winner)—we're thinking a George Clooney type. For the defense, there's Henry Drummond, who used to be friends with Brady and is a famous agnostic—we're thinking Matthew McConaughey, yes?

Truly the talk of the town, Rachel's father, Reverend Jeremiah, whips everyone into a fury over this whole evolution business through song, sermon, and prayer. He wants to get all of the townspeople on his side before the trial starts.

Rachel doesn't know where she stands. She is frightened of her father and doesn't really like the idea of descending from monkeys. But she also respects Bert.

When the trial begins, it's the biggest show the town has ever seen. Several people are called to the stand to testify, including Rachel. She ends up speechless, because she doesn't want to lie but also doesn't want to send Bert to the slammer. Conundrum.

From Underdog to Victor

The judge seems to favor Brady's side heavily, and won't let Drummond use any of his experts as witnesses. So Drummond ends up free-stylin' and calls Brady himself to the stand. He ties him up in some rhetorical knots, and ends up making a fool of his old buddy.

The town fills with reporters as the verdict is about to come down. So what's the verdict? Bert's guilty. But the judge only orders him to pay a fine of one hundred bucks.

Brady is spitting mad about this, because he wanted to make an example of Bert and lock him away for a good, long time. Drummond, who is looking to appeal the case at a higher level, says his client won't pay. So the judge orders him to pay five hundred dollars.

Brady was planning to make a big speech, but since the case concluded kind of anti-climactically (no ball and chain for Bert), he has to scramble for an audience. No one really pays him any attention, and he ends up collapsing and dying. Now there's a climax for you.

Hornbeck, a smart aleck reporter, pays the five hundred bucks Bert owes. Drummond, who ends up feeling sorry for his opponent, is disappointing to Hornbeck, who is out for blood. The two argue about whether or not they should have any sympathy for Brady.

Bert, Drummond, and Rachel all get out of town on the last train. Science triumphs, having only had to pay a few hundred buckaroos to exist in schools.

  • Act 1, Scene 1

    • Who cares if we're descended from monkeys or not? Let's talk about worms.
    • Howard and Melinda, a couple of kids, wonder about whether they used to be worms, in a sort of warped version of evolution.
    • This kind of thing happened a lot, back when evolution was a newer notion.
    • Rachel shows up at the courthouse, looking for Bert.
    • Mr. Meeker, the bailiff, promises not to tell Rachel's dad that she came to the jail.
    • Her dad definitely wouldn't be happy, since he's the town preacher, and Bert's the kind of potential boyfriend parents worry about.
    • Rachel tries to talk Bert into apologizing. She wants him to say that his teaching evolution in school was just a joke, but he won't listen.
    • Rachel's father, the Reverend Jeremiah Brown, oversees the preparations for the arrival of the prosecution lawyer, Matthew Brady.
    • Seeing their golden opportunity for a quick buck, people start setting up lemonade and hot dog stands.
    • So there's plenty of picnic food to go around. Yum.
    • A religious hermit shows up hollering about the end of the world, and a journalist from Baltimore, Hornbeck, argues with him playfully over whether or not evolution is real.
    • Hornbeck's dialogue is sassy.
    • The townspeople sing hymns to welcome Brady to town, and he gives a very charismatic speech. He also shows off his eating abilities, and downs everything the Ladies' Aid group has prepared… to his wife's distress.
    • Brady talks to Rachel about her relationship with Bert. She's a teacher, too, and has a hard time because she wants to defend Bert, but also respects Brady.
    • She's caught between a rock and a monkey, you might say.
    • Then Hornbeck lets everyone know that Henry Drummond will be the defense attorney, and everyone flips out.
    • He's famous for defending the indefensible and for being a (gasp) agnostic.
    • The Reverend calls Drummond a devil, but Brady is excited and says, bring it on.
    • He keeps on eating, preparing for the showdown. Guess he thinks the big trial will take a lot (of calories) out of him, eh?
    • Hornbeck talks to Rachel and kind of makes her look dumb because she blindly follows the law and religion. He admires Bert for being a renegade, of course.
    • We think this is kind of unfair because Rachel is trying to be reasonable in all of this.
    • Finally, Drummond shows up, and Melinda screams and runs away, thinking he's the devil. Hornbeck welcomes him to "hell". Haha.
  • Act 1, Scene 2

    • Now we're inside the courtroom, and it's time to select the jury.
    • A town lawyer by the name of Davenport and Mr. Drummond select the jury. Drummond accepts people who have never heard of evolution, of course.
    • These lawyers are obviously trying to stack the jury in their favor.
    • Brady asks if everyone can take off their coats because it's hotter than blue blazes in the courtroom, and the judge agrees. Everyone cuts loose.
    • Obviously, the fact that this is Casual Trial Friday adds to the carnival-like atmosphere of this whole trial.
    • Drummond refuses to accept someone for the jury who says he believes in the Bible, and in Matthew Brady.
    • Then Drummond gets all angry because everyone is calling Brady "Colonel." As it turns, out they made him an honorary colonel the day he got to town.
    • So to make Drummond feel special too, the judge declares him a colonel as well. (These two are worse than squabbling siblings.)
    • After some more bickering, the rest of the jury is selected.
    • Near the end of the scene, the judge announces that there will be a prayer meeting.
    • Drummond objects because he thinks it's unfair to give publicity to one of the sides in the case and not the other.
    • The judge is all, "simmer down now," and rejects his pleas.
    • Rachel asks Drummond to give up on prosecuting her wannabe boyfriend.
    • Bert is scared, and Drummond tells him he should be. Ooh.
    • Bert decides to stick with the case, of course, and Rachel gets increasingly anxious. Girl's got good reason, too: Brady wants her to testify against Bert.
    • Conflict of interest, much?
  • Act 2, Scene 1

    • Workers set up for the prayer meeting while Brady talks to Hornbeck and other reporters.
    • Brady says that Drummond used to work on his campaigns.
    • Now, however, Drummond is challenging people's faith, so Brady says he must go against his old pal.
    • Arch-nemeses always start out as the closest of friends, you know.
    • Anyway, the prayer meeting starts and people get really riled up, especially the Reverend. He prays that god will destroy Bert.
    • Rachel begs her father not to pray for such a thing.
    • He asks that she be cursed too, because she is defending a sinner.
    • We did not see that coming. Yikes.
    • Brady puts a stop to the hellfire talk by saying that "He that troubleth his own house…shall inherit the wind" (II, I, 177-78).
    • This is a bible quote. What do you think it means, and why was this quote chosen for the play's title, hmm?
    • Drummond says that he isn't the one who moved away from Brady.
    • No, he says, Brady was the one who stood still and brought distance to their relationship.
    • These two are starting to sound more like ex-lovers than siblings.
  • Act 2, Scene 2

    • One of Bert's students is brought in as a witness, and Brady asks him what his teacher taught him about the way the earth was formed.
    • The student, Howard, tells the jury about how Bert taught the class about evolution.
    • But Brady starts soap-boxing and leading the kid on.
    • So Drummond objects, and asks the boy what Howard thinks about evolution.
    • The lawyers bicker over what exactly is on trial, a man or the right to think.
    • You can see how litigation like this—what can or can't be taught in schools, who can or can't do what to their own bodies—quickly escalates from accusations against the person or persons on trial to accusations against entire institutions, organizations, or ideas.
    • Drummond asks Howard whether something has to be mentioned in the Bible to make it good, and Howard says no.
    • Oh snap.
    • Brady then questions Rachel about Bert's religious beliefs.
    • Rachel says that Bert quit going to church after a little boy in the town drowned and Rachel's father preached at the funeral that he had hadn't died in a state of grace because he wasn't baptized.
    • Bert couldn't stomach the idea that a little boy could have any badness in him.
    • Bert interrupts and says that what Brown really said was that the little boy was suffering in hell, and that's why he quit going to church.
    • This makes what Brown originally said sound a lot more dramatic.
    • But obviously dude is not supposed to interrupt the court proceedings like that.
    • Next, Brady makes Rachel tell about some jokes Bert made about religion, and she ends up blocked, unable to speak.
    • Clearly, Brady is trying to make a character case against Bert—show that he's a wicked heathen, and then the jury will convict him of whatever the charge is at hand.
    • The judge eventually dismisses Rachel.
    • Then Drummond tries to call a lot of professors to the stand, but Brady objects to all of them, and the judge won't let them through.
    • We think the judge is kind of in the pocket of Mr. Brady; he doesn't seem to be treating Drummond too fairly.
    • Finally, Drummond calls Brady to the stand and asks him about the Bible.
    • Drummond tries to quote Darwin, that Evolution Grandmaster, but the judge won't allow it. He's got to stick to the Bible.
    • Drummond asks Brady whether he really believes in some of the wildest stories in the Bible, like Jonah and the whale, or Joshua stopping the sun in the sky.
    • (We're guessing he's not talking about believing in popular love songs, where a boy looks at a girl and the sun is always stopping in the sky and the traffic lights are all turning green and whatnot.)
    • Drummond asks why God gave people the power to think if it was going to be considered evil.
    • Burn.
    • Drummond and Brady argue over the particulars of creation, and finally Drummond sticks it to Brady with the concept of the twenty-four hour day. Were there days and nights before the creation of the sun and moon, he demands.
    • Brady gets flustered and says that maybe it wasn't necessarily a twenty-four hour day… which Drummond understands as proof that Brady doesn't take the Bible literally.
    • Brady says that he knows right and wrong because God speaks to him. And Brady says maybe God spoke to Darwin.
    • Drummond ends up making a fool of Brady, who acts like a baby because the people laugh at him.
    • His wife rocks him to make him feel better.
    • Aw.
  • Act 3

    • Bert is afraid of his sentence—who wouldn't be? Jail doesn't sound like much fun.
    • Drummond tells Bert that he always takes long shots in choosing his cases.
    • Then he launches into a long narrative, because apparently it's Rousing Story Time.
    • Drummond tells Bert about that time he wanted a rocking horse.
    • See, he really really wanted one, but when his parents finally bought one for him, it turned out to be really shoddy.
    • It broke on his first ride.
    • From then on, he made spotting lies is his obsession. And dude has not fallen off of a wooden rocking horse since.
    • A radio man wants to broadcast the verdict, which has never happened before in history.
    • Like we said, this trial is kind of a big deal.
    • The mayor asks the judge to take it easy because people are getting all worked up about the trial, and he doesn't want a lot of civil unrest.
    • Then, the big reveal: the jury announces that Bert was found guilty, in a unanimous vote.
    • Bert makes a statement that he will continue to oppose the law against teaching evolution because it is unfair.
    • Obviously, he is not experiencing any remorse.
    • We're scared for Bert's future.
    • But then, the judge sentences Bert to a one hundred-dollar fine.
    • Haha. That's not jail time, judge.
    • Brady is really pissed about this slap on the wrist, and asks for a heavier punishment.
    • Next, Drummond instigates some trouble. He says that Bert won't pay the fine—nope, they will be appealing this decision to a higher court.
    • The judge fixes bond at five hundred dollars and court is adjourned (bam bam).
    • Brady asks if he can read a super long speech on the record, but the judge tells him that the fat lady has sung.
    • Guess Brady couldn't get everything he wanted after all, even with the whole town on his side.
    • Everyone starts milling around instead of listening to Brady.
    • He clearly can't stand it when people don't listen to him.
    • The radio man cuts off his broadcast of Brady's speech, and that's the last straw for Brady.
    • Brady collapses and is carried off.
    • Bert then finds out that Hornbeck paid his bail, and Rachel announces she's leaving her father.
    • The judge announces that Brady is dead, and Drummond feels for him.
    • We think he died from Lack of Attention Disorder.
    • But when Hornbeck makes fun of Brady, Drummond gets mad at him.
    • Hornbeck and Drummond argue over whether they should have any sympathy for Brady.
    • Rachel and Bert plan to meet at the train station, to be reunited as free-people-crushing-on-each-other once again.
    • Drummond puts both the Bible and Darwin into his briefcase and heads to the train station, too.
    • We're pretty sure that train had a bumper sticker on it that read, "Coexist."
    • Doneskies.