Matthew Harrison Brady
Brady is a well-known politician (he ran for the presidency of the United States three times), an excellent orator, a fundamentalist, and a leader of the crusade against the theory of evolution. When he learns the Butler Law is being challenged in Hillsboro, he volunteers to prosecute the defendant, Cates. Brady's mission is to make an example of Cates and to defend the "Living Truth of the Scriptures." When he arrives in Hillsboro with his wife, Sarah, and is greeted by a large crowd of townspeople and the mayor, he "basks in the cheers and the excitement."
Brady's character represents that of William Jennings Bryan, who was the prosecuting attorney for the Scopes trial. Although similarities exist — Bryan was a brilliant politician (he also ran for the presidency three times), a great orator (known as The Great Commoner), a fundamentalist, and a leader of the crusade against teaching Darwin's theory of evolution as truth in public schools — significant differences exists. For example, unlike Brady, Bryan was not out to get Scopes, he was familiar with Darwin's theories, and he did not fall apart on the witness stand. Nor was Bryan the narrow-minded, pompous, hypocrite that is depicted in Brady; in fact, Bryan was known as a cooperative, kind, and charming man.
Lawrence and Lee describe Brady as a large man who appears to be self-confident, kindly, and gracious. "He is gray, balding, paunchy, an indeterminate sixty-five." As he begins to speak to the crowd that meets him at the train, Brady's personal magnetism is obvious; the crowd is in awe of him, and the mayor bestows upon him a commission as Honorary Colonel in the State Militia. Brady is impressed with his new title and the adulation he receives.
Brady questions the townspeople about Cates and uses his favorable reputation to encourage Rachel, a friend of Cates and daughter of Reverend Brown, to trust him and tell him about Cates. He is hypocritical because he acts gently toward Rachel in order to get the information he wants, but once he has that information, he disregards her feelings and requires her to appear as a witness for the prosecution. When she is on the witness stand, he forces her to divulge private conversations she had with Cates. When she becomes distraught, Brady appears unaffected, underscoring the fact that he is simply using her to make an example of Cates.
Brady, the hero of the common people, looks forward to the trial. In that he never questions whether he can win the case or his own position in the battle, he displays hubris, or overreaching pride. He arrogantly uses every opportunity to pontificate, to express his opinions. He is certain that he is on the "right" side — the side of fundamentalism — and he sees the trial as a challenge in which he can "test the steel of (his) Truth against the blasphemies of science." As the trial begins, Brady "sits grandly . . . with benign self-assurance." He is confident because the majority of the spectators in the courtroom revere him, and he has their total support.
Brady's character is dynamic, changing as the action of the play unfolds. He is unaware that he has become overzealous about denouncing evolution. Ironically, when he hears Reverend Brown pray for retribution for his own daughter, Brady steps forward and tells him that, "it is possible to be overzealous, to destroy that which you hope to save — so that nothing is left but emptiness." And then he quotes from the Book of Proverbs: "He that troubleth his own house . . . shall inherit the wind."
When Brady is left alone with Drummond after the prayer meeting, he questions Drummond about the friendship they'd once shared. Drummond tells Brady that "perhaps (he has) moved away — by standing still." Brady is shocked. He has been carried by the wave of his popularity and has not stopped to think or to assess his position in relation to changes taking place in American society.
When Drummond calls Brady to the witness stand as an expert on the Bible, "Brady moves to the witness stand in a grandiose style." He is overconfident, underestimating Drummond's shrewd courtroom tactics. In his arrogance, Brady does not think about the consequences of taking the witness stand. Throughout Drummond's questioning, Brady admits that has never read Darwin's evolutionary theories, and it becomes evident that he does not interpret the Bible literally but instead thinks, as God intended man to do. In this scene, Brady is transformed from a strong, confident leader to a pathetic, floundering fool. In his public humiliation and the destruction of his credibility, he becomes a tragic character.
Brady wins the case, but his victory is bitter. When his closing speech is interrupted and eventually cut short by inattentive spectators, he loses the last quality that, until now, had been unassailable: his ability to communicate. Unable to accept being ignored and laughed at, Brady collapses and ultimately dies.