Book Title/Author: Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee
Publisher/Year Published: Random House, 1955
How I got a hold of this book: I received this book from PaperBackSwap in return for departing with an old book.
Why I read this book: I wanted to read the play before I watch the movie (which has Gene Kelly in it, yum!)
Rating: 4.5 stars because it make me think about a grander issue than the lovely Gene Kelly, who was the main reason I picked it up in the first place.
The events that took place during the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 very obviously form the background from this play. Yet, the play has a life and message of its own. Yes, a few quotes from the trial transcripts were used. But the play could have survived without such quotations. Any town at any time could be the setting of the play because it explores a larger issue than merely the legality of banning versus the acceptability of teaching evolution in schools.
The play chronicles the circus-like atmosphere and the attention that descended upon a small town when two of the country's most infamous legal minds collided in a small courtroom. Matthew Harrison Brady is clearly based upon William Jennings Bryan and Henry Drummond is clearly based upon Clarence Darrow. The cynical EK Hornbeck is based upon HL Mencken (and is played by Gene Kelly in the film). There is not a lot of point in going over the storyline because it closely follows that of the Scopes Monkey Trial. There is a lot of highfalutin speech-making. Drummond calls Brady to the stand and makes a fool out of him and his beliefs. Brady wins the case, but Drummond wins the war.
The grander issue at stake in this play is the issue of free speech. Much has been made over what constitutes protected speech--you can't shout "Fire" in a crowded movie house because it might cause injury, the dissemination of pornography (and Potter Stewart knows it when he sees it) is limited because of the offense principle, and hate speech isn't protected either. Other First Amendment rights have also been debated extensively in the national sphere.
This play reminded me of that old saying, oft-attributed to Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." After Hornbeck takes the wrong message of the case a bit too far, Drummond points out that "Brady had the same right as Cates [the teacher on trial]: the right to be wrong." I questioned myself and my thoughts toward the right to say what one will, the right of each individual to be wrong. For that, I gave this book 4.5 stars. It also made me read a bit of HL Mencken's A Mencken Chrestomathy: His Own Selection of His Choicest Writing and that was pretty amazing too.