Inherit the Wind at a Glance

  • Inherit "The man who has everything figured out is probably a fool. College examinations notwithstanding, it takes a very smart fella to say 'I don’t know the answer!'”

                           -Henry Drummond, Inherit the Wind


     About the Author:

    The playwriting team of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee was one of the great partnerships in American twentieth-century theatre. Among their many long running and widely produced plays are Inherit the Wind, First Monday in October, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, and Auntie Mame. From the late 1940s, Lawrence and Lee collaborated on plays for the theatre. They were co-founders of American Playwrights Theatre established to enable work by established playwrights to be produced outside of New York.  Lawrence and Lee co-founded the Margo Jones Award as a memorial to Margo Jones who gave a number of American playwrights, including themselves, productions that were important to the development of their careers. Lawrence and Lee have received numerous awards including the Peabody Award separately, and the Donaldson Award, the Outer Critics' Circle Award, and the London Critics' Award for Best Foreign Play for Inherit the Wind jointly. The contributions of Lawrence and Lee to American literature, to the craft of playwriting, and to the promotion of American professional and academic theatre are significant.  "Biography of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee." Inventory of the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Collection. The Ohio State University. Web. 27 May 2016.


     

    Background:

    Inherit the Wind is a play about sending a man to jail for teaching evolutionary biology. The Scopes trial on which it is based is a 1925 case against a high school teacher over the legality of teaching evolution in state-funded schools. This play tells the story of the fictional character Bert Cates, a small-town teacher who is accused of and tried for teaching his students Darwin's theory.  Inherit the Wind was first put on in 1955. That was smack-dab in the middle of the McCarthy trials. These trials were designed to root out Communists in America; but people went way overboard with their accusations of Communism during that time, and a lot of innocent folks' lives were ruined.  Now, just as Bert is portrayed as a martyr in the play—as a guy who is being punished for breaking an unfair law—many people in the U.S. were being accused of being ¨unAmerican¨ in 1955. Sometimes, people lost their careers, their loved ones, and their whole reputations over accusations of Communism.  So, Lawrence and Lee use the unfairness of the Scopes Trial to highlight the injustice of their own time.  The Scopes Trial is an allegory for the McCarthy trials. Shmoop Editorial Team. "Inherit the Wind." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 2008. Web. 27 May 2016.

Background on McCarthyism