Critical Essays Dramatic Conventions and Devices in Inherit the Wind



To reveal information about characters and events in Inherit the Wind, Lawrence and Lee utilize a number of dramatic conventions and devices. They use a foil, a sharp contrast between two characters, to enhance the characteristics of Brady and Drummond. Monologue, a speech given by one person without interruption, is used to expose aspects of Drummond's personality. A romance motif, a conventional subplot, develops concerning Rachel and her love for Cates despite their differing viewpoints. Hornbeck's cynicism and wit, in the form of poetry, creates the effect of a chorus character. Finally, the Southern dialect spoken by the townspeople emphasizes the difference between the North and South and between rural and cosmopolitan areas. These dramatic conventions and devices advance the plot of Inherit the Wind.


Lawrence and Lee place Drummond, the defense attorney, and Brady, the prosecuting attorney, side by side, thereby dramatizing the differences between the two characters. In Act II, Scene 2, when Brady takes the witness stand, it becomes apparent that Drummond serves as a foil for Brady. Drummond remains patient and methodical as he cross-examines Brady, but Brady becomes frustrated, confused, and bitter. Each character is intensified by the presence of the other, and their differences are magnified. As Brady crumbles, Drummond becomes the hero of the townspeople, saving them from censored knowledge and narrow-minded thinking.


When the audience first learns that Drummond, the famous defense attorney for underdogs, will be arriving in Hillsboro, the impression Lawrence and Lee create is that of a hardened, no-nonsense man who is defending Cates to serve his own purposes. The playwrights use monologue, a long uninterrupted speech in the presence of others, to portray Drummond's true character. At the end of Act I, Scene 2, Drummond tells Cates and Rachel that he understands the loneliness Cates is feeling. He is empathetic. Drummond clearly values honesty and believes in standing up for one's beliefs. In Act II, Scene 2, Drummond addresses the court, adamantly relating his belief that, "An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral." He cares deeply about the freedom of the individual human mind and understands the price that must be paid for progress. Finally, in Act III, Drummond tells Cates his story about Golden Dancer. In it, he reveals his never-ending search for truth. At the end of the play, the audience has a different impression of Drummond's character. He is a hero who opens people's eyes to the value of freedom of thought and the need to fight censorship.

The Romance Motif

Lawrence and Lee use a romance motif, a conventional subplot, to portray the conflict between bigotry and enlightenment. Rachel, the daughter of a fundamentalist preacher, falls in love with Cates, an evolutionist. Rachel is torn between her own fundamentalist beliefs and love for her father and her love for Cates. At first, she wants Cates to change his plea, to admit he was wrong.

At the welcome picnic for Brady and at her father's prayer meeting, Rachel is confronted with situations involving devout fundamentalists causing her to question her own fundamentalist beliefs. Brady, a man whom she respects and trusts, manipulates her into revealing confidential conversations she had with Cates and forces her to testify against Cates in court. Later, during a prayer meeting, her father condemns Cates, and Rachel as well, when she speaks out in support of Cates.

Rachel knows Cates is not a bad person because he has different beliefs. She reads Darwin's evolutionary theory and draws her own conclusions. As she tells Cates and Drummond, "I was always afraid of what I might think — so it seemed safer not to think at all . . . now I know . . . if (an idea) dies inside you, part of you dies, too!" Rachel becomes enlightened and leaves Hillsboro with Cates.

Chorus Character

A dramatic convention Lawrence and Lee use to portray a benighted South is a chorus character -- a Greek chorus reduced to one character. In classic Greek drama, the chorus sings its lines as it comments on the action of the play and predicts the future of the characters. In Inherit the Wind, Hornbeck's character has the effect of being a chorus character. His lines, written in the form of poetry, allow him to function as a commentator. He is a vehicle for comic relief as he moralizes and relays information to the audience. Hornbeck is amused at the lack of sophistication and narrow-mindedness he observes in Hillsboro. He mocks Hillsboro, the residents, their fundamentalist beliefs, and their leader, Brady, throughout the play. In Act I, Scene 1, he comments to a community member:

"The unplumbed and plumbing-less depths!
Ahhhh, Hillsboro -- Heavenly Hillsboro.
The buckle on the Bible Belt."

He tells Rachel that there are "A few ignorance bushes (in Hillsboro). . .(but) No Tree of Knowledge." He makes fun of fundamentalism when he sees a monkey and exclaims, "Grandpa!" Hornbeck claims that Brady arrived in Hillsboro "to find himself a stump to shout from. That's all." He did not show up to be the "champion of ordinary people." After Brady dies, Hornbeck says:

"How do you write an obituary
For a man who's been dead thirty years?"

Hornbeck's commentary on the fundamentalists in Hillsboro illustrates the perceived differences that exist between the North and South and between cosmopolitan and rural areas within the United States.


Lawrence and Lee use a southern dialect to realistically portray the residents of Hillsboro, as well as to illustrate their lack of sophistication. A dialect is a spoken version of a language. Dialects are regional and are often class languages having distinct features of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Southern dialect is informal, using figurative language and colorful expressions. For example, in Act I, Scene 1, Howard asks Melinda, "What're yuh skeered of?" As the townspeople prepare for Brady's arrival, the audience hears that the paint on the banner, "didn't dry @'til jist now," the picnic the women prepared is "Fitt'n fer a King," and because of Brady's arrival, the "Town's gonna fill up like a rain barrel in a flood."

Lawrence and Lee use the Southern dialect spoken by the people of Hillsboro to stereotype the townspeople as "ignorant Southerners." This implication leads to the theme of the play and the conflict between evolutionism (progressive thinking) and fundamentalism or creationism (reactionary thinking).

Lawrence and Lee use conventions and devices to emphasize the themes of the play: Knowledge must not be censored, people must fight for freedom of thought, and differing beliefs must be valued. Although the playwrights based Inherit the Wind on the 1925 Scopes trial, it was published and produced in 1955, in the midst of the McCarthy era, and as they state, the setting, " . . . might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow."