Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized and distorted account of the Scopes Monkey Trial, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee in the form of a play. The play was first presented on Broadway in 1955 and was made into a movie in 1960. Despite its distortions, it is considered a classic of modern theater, and was remounted on Broadway in 2008 starring Patrick Denehey and Christopher Plummer.
There is considerable evidence that the play and film are not simply inaccurate, but rather are highly biased in their intent. The historical inaccuracies are systematic and of a kind that presents a consistent bias of slanderous proportions against people who believe the Biblical account of creation.
The evidence suggests that the inaccuracies in the play and film Inherit The Wind are substantive, intentional and systematic. Christians, and particularly William Jennings Bryan, are consistently lampooned throughout the play, while sceptics and agnostics are portrayed as intelligent, kindly, and even heroic. I cannot escape the conclusion that the writers of Inherit The Wind never intended to write a historically accurate account of the Scopes trial, nor did they seriously attempt to portray the principal characters and their beliefs in a fair and accurate way.
On the other hand, those critical of the miracles of the Bible are portrayed as eminently reasonable people who must suffer abuse, threats and ignorance from fundamentalist Christians.
Simultaneously conceding and denying their deception, the play's authors wrote in their preface that the play "does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as 'Not too long ago.' It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow.". Nevertheless, the fictionalisation is virtually all in the direction of vilifying Christians.
|Fictional Character||Historical person|
|the Reverend Jeremiah Brown||(fictitious)|
|Brown's persecuted daughter, Rachel||(fictitious)|
|Matthew Harrison Brady||William Jennings Bryan|
|Henry Drummond||Clarence Darrow|
|Bert Cates||John Scopes|
|E.K. Hornbeck||H.L. Mencken|
Fabrications in the movie include:The message in the film was clear: To portray those who accept evolution as being progressive truth-seekers, unshackled by false old religious ideas, and full of common sense. But Christians were portrayed as dishonest and hypocritical, or as ignorant yokels who deny the truth of progress occurring all around them, preferring to remain attached to quaint old traditions.
Bryan’s movie character betrays the trust of Scopes’s girlfriend, who is the local preacher’s daughter, and who is shattered by the breach of confidence. ‘Bryan’ is presented as a harsh and desperate man willing even to ‘sell out’ an innocent girl to achieve victory. This subplot is not present in the original play, although the others mentioned here are. In reality Scopes did not even have a girlfriend.
Distorting and parodying Christian morality, Bryan’s movie character claims that sexual intercourse is the ‘original sin’. In reality, there was however no mention made about sex at all during Darrow’s examination of Bryan.
Bryan’s character was portrayed as having a ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach to life by refusing even to read Darwin’s writings. In fact, Bryan was highly educated and had discussed Darwin’s books with leading evolutionists.
In real life, Scopes was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine, which Bryan charitably offered to pay on his behalf. The play however, has ‘Bryan’ protesting that the fine ought to be much harsher.
In the fabricated closing scenes, ‘Bryan’ is portrayed as a defeated and broken man, insanely reciting Scripture in a sweat-laden frenzy of madness, before dramatically dying in the courtroom. He is looked upon with pity by the calm and reasonable evolutionists, and those gathered from the press.
- Menton, David, Inherit the Wind: an historical analysis, Creation 19(1):35–38, December 1996
- Demick, David, Who’s inheriting the wind now?, Creation 29(2):34–36, March 2007.