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inherit wind

Explain how the play's title (Inherit the Wind) contributes to its meaning.


Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s 1955 play Inherit the Wind was based on the famous 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial,” in which a Tennessee substitute school teacher was charged with violating the state’s law against the teaching of evolution. While such academic instruction would seem fairly innocuous to most students in the twenty-first century, in the “Bible Belt” states that comprised the American South, the subject of evolution was deeply offensive to the enormously pious Protestant communities there.

When John Scopes, the teacher in question, was tried for the crime of teaching evolution, therefore, the political, religious, and social climate of the time was not conducive to such displays of academia. The trial became, subsequently, a landmark case—a development helped by the prominence of the two lawyers involved, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. The former served as prosecutor and the latter as attorney of record for the accused, Scopes. In prosecuting the case, and in seeking to establish a climate more favorable to his perspective, Bryan appealed to the community’s innate sense of religious orthodoxy. In other words, he played to the very religious crowd.

Inherit the Wind changed the names of the trial’s participants, as is common in such adaptations, but the real-life personalities were clear. In a very famous scene in the play, Bryan/Brady (the fictitious name used in the play) exhorts a crowd of local citizens to reject discussions of evolution and remain submissive to Biblical prophesies and teachings. It is in this scene, and in this context, that Bryan/Brady quotes scripture, declaring that “he that troubles his own house shall inherit the wind.” What this means is that, by deviating from strict interpretations of the Bible—and the teaching of evolution was considered a very serious deviation—humanity threatens its own well-being, and John Scopes was an instigator who was upsetting the proper order, which would lead to his own demise.

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