Rather than being fully realized characters-at least on the
printed page-the characters in Inherit the Wind are type characters-that
is, one who "embodies a substantial number of significant distinguishing
characteristics of his group or class" (Holman, 541-42). The main characters
are, for the most part, starkly drawn and lack nuance. Rather than being a
flaw, however, this fact may account for some of the play's strength and its
enduring power in the American theatrical repertoire. Because the characters
are to some extent universal, capable of being recognized in any day and any
place, they are able to shoulder the meanings and experiences subsequent
generations of readers and theatergoers bring to their encounters with them.
Bertram Cates is a young teacher who is open to new
ideas and who shares some of those ideas, Darwinian theories of evolution, with
his students, in defiance of a state law that forbids him to do so. Cates is
"typed" as a free-thinker, one who is not afraid to ask questions and to
speculate, and who does not believe that merely entertaining a new thought
makes one a criminal.
Matthew Harrison Brady is a charismatic politician-a
three-time presidential candidate-and preacher who champions a literal reading
of the Bible, which he sees as the hallmark of true faith. He is concerned with
public morality, and views Cates' teaching of evolution as a threat to it.
Brady is "typed" as one who belongs to the past, and as a closed-minded
The Rev. Jeremiah Brown, however, may fit that type
even closer than does Brady. Brown represents some of the worst that religion
has to offer. His fervor for true faith even leads him, at one point, to pray a
curse upon his own daughter, Rachel Brown, who is in love with Bertram
Cates, because Rachel dares to ask him to pray for Bert's soul with mercy (a
supposedly Christian attribute!). Brady, at least, evinces none of the
mean-spirited judgmentalism that Brown does. By the end of the play, Rachel,
like Cates, is willing to expose herself to new ideas; her father, presumably,
never reaches that point.
Henry Drummond is the attorney from the "big
city"-intellectual, liberal, free-thinking, sophisticated in the eyes of the
world-who defends Cates. He is as passionate a champion of the right to think
as Brady is a champion of the "old-time religion." Drummond is labeled at
various points in the play as a "godless atheist," and, while he is an atheist
(or at the least agnostic), he is "typed" as one who sees the sacred in the
human individual. The mind is sacred to Drummond, and its freedom and integrity
must not be violated.
E.K. Hornbeck is, like Drummond, a "big city
sophisticate," but he is more cynical and-as his speech in blank verse
throughout the play shows-self-important than is the attorney. The playwrights
"type" Hornbeck as a skeptic who is quick to reduce people and situations to
witty one-liners. By he play's end he is as skeptical of Drummond as he is of
Brady. Hornbeck emerges as, in some ways, just as close-minded as Brady or
Brown, because he is unable to see in Brady what Drummond does: a certain
greatness of spirit, however mistaken.
C. Hugh Holman, ed. A Handbook to Literature, 3rd
edition. Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.