Summary and Analysis
The next day, everyone returns to the courtroom to hear the verdict, which is to be broadcast on WGN radio station. Cates is found guilty and is fined $100. In his statement to the court, he vows to continue to oppose the Butler Law. Brady has won the case but does not feel victorious. The spectators no longer view him as their illustrious leader; they have turned their backs on him. Drummond is triumphant in his fight for freedom of thought. Brady attempts to make his closing speech after the judge has adjourned the court, but the spectators leave, ignoring Brady's efforts to hold their attention. He collapses and dies soon after. Rachel and Cates leave Hillsboro together.
This act comprises the falling action and the catastrophe of the play. The tone is grim, and the anticipation mounts as everyone awaits the verdict of the trial. Hornbeck provides comic relief as he gives a commentary on his interpretation of the action. He asks if the jury is out "swatting flies and wrestling with justice — in that order." And then he sarcastically remarks that he will "hate to see the jury filing in" because he will "miss Hillsboro."
Using a metaphor,, Lawrence and Lee speak through Drummond to describe the necessity of seeking truth. Drummond comments that when the people of Tennessee "started this fire" (passed the Butler Law), they never thought it would "light up the whole sky" (create national attention). "People's shoes are getting hot," (they are getting nervous) because the trial has stirred things up, and they're not sure of the outcome. In a monologue, Drummond tells Cates an anecdote about a rocking horse named Golden Dancer that he received as a child. Outside the horse was beautiful, but inside, the wood was rotten. The moral of the story, Drummond says, is, if you discover a lie, " . . . show it up for what it really is." The story of Golden Dancer is analogous both to the creation story as a literal interpretation of events and to the Butler Law. Both, when unexamined, appear unflawed. ,
The courtroom is "charged with excitement" as the jury returns. Cates is found guilty. The reaction of the spectators is unexpectedly mixed; some clap, some say "Amen," and some boo. Again, Hornbeck provides comic relief as he mocks the verdict by pretending to sell tickets for the Middle Ages and the coronation of Charlemagne.
Cates makes a statement to the court in which he vows to continue to oppose the Butler Law, which he considers unjust. The judge fines Cates a mere $100. According to the stage directions, "the mighty Evolution Law explodes with the pale puff of a wet firecracker." The Butler Law remains a law, but it is now meaningless. Lawrence and Lee refer to the death of McCarthyism — like the Butler Law, it also fizzled out.
Brady wins the trial, but the victory isn't enough; "the prize is his, but he can't reach for the candy." He is angry and in disbelief about Cates' minimal fine. Brady becomes more agitated when he is not given the opportunity to make his closing statement. He tries to give the speech after the court is adjourned, but the confusion in the courtroom, the lack of attention of the spectators, and the intrusion of hawkers selling refreshments make delivering his speech nearly impossible. Then, when the radioman takes his microphone and leaves in mid-oration, Brady is moved beyond embarrassment and anger. The catastrophe of the play occurs when Brady collapses and begins to recite "undelivered inaugural speeches" and soon after dies.
When Cates expresses confusion regarding whether he won or lost, Drummond tells him that he "smashed a bad law," and "made it a joke." Cates won a moral victory and " . . . helped the next fella." Through Drummond, Lawrence and Lee emphasize that the fight for freedom of thought is never over. There will always be issues censoring or limiting the freedom to think that must be fought.
When Rachel returns to the courthouse, she is no longer the timid, unsure young woman who feared questioning her father's or her own beliefs. Newly enlightened, she carries in her suitcase and Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which she had borrowed from Cates. She admits to Cates and Drummond that she had " . . . never really thought very much," but realizes that thoughts and ideas are necessary.
After learning of Brady's death, Hornbeck continues to denounce him. Drummond defends Brady, telling Hornbeck that he doesn't have a right to "spit" on Brady or Brady's religion. Hornbeck continues to mock Brady and, composing an obituary for him, Hornbeck realizes that Brady " . . . delivered his own obituary." Looking in a Bible for the proverb that Brady recited at the prayer meeting in Act II, Hornbeck is shocked when Drummond recites the proverb from memory, "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart." Then Drummond repeats the plea for tolerance when he tells Hornbeck that Brady had the same right as Cates — "the right to be wrong." Hornbeck realizes that Drummond is more religious than Brady was.
Through Rachel's growth and Drummond's defense of Brady, as well as his leaving the courthouse with both the Bible and Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Lawrence and Lee emphasize the theme of the play: Differing perspectives should be allowed to exist side by side within society.
melange a mixture or medley; hodgepodge.
Moorish African people of mixed Berber and Arabic heritage. During the eight century, they conquered much of Spain and Portugal. Under their influence, science, philosophy, and architecture flourished.
people's shoes are getting hot people are getting nervous.
lugging carrying or dragging (something heavy).
precedent an act, statement, legal decision, case, etc. that may serve as an example, reason, or justification for a later one.
hullaballoo loud noise and confusion; hubbub.
gettin' all steamed up becoming angry.
break down a lot of walls to enact change resulting in progress.
cavalcade any procession.
Coronation of Charlemagne Charlemagne (Charles the Great) (742-814) built a huge empire in Europe during the Middle Ages. He was well known for his military victories, the size of his empire, and his respect for Christian doctrine and the law. Charlemagne was coronated on Christmas Day, 800 a.d, in Old Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
explodes with the pale puff of a wet firecracker is anticlimactic.
mete to allot; distribute; apportion: usually with out.
sine die without (a) day (being set for meeting again); for an indefinite period.
seventh inning stretch a baseball tradition by which people stand up and stretch between the top and bottom of the seventh inning.
sotto voce in an undertone, so as not to be overheard.
cussedness perversity; stubbornness.
Excalibur the magic sword claimed by King Arthur, which only he could remove from the rock in which it was embedded.
rotogravures a printing process using photogravure cylinders on a rotary press.
Corinthians two epistles, letters adopted as books of the New Testament, written by Saint Paul to the church in Corinth, an ancient Greek city.