Throughout history, humans have undergone a constant evolutionary process in regards to ways in which we view the world. The play Inherit The Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee conveys how modern ideologies experience turbulence when first presented. Often times the past has revealed that humans are inherently skeptical and resistant to progressive ideas. The 1950’s, in which the play was written, sets a tone that illustrates how ignorance, loss of power, and fear of uncertainty heightens anxiety and causes the characters in Inherit The Wind to remain stagnant in their views.
Ignorance is the main factor that contributes in further perpetuating any conservative society. Southern states of America have had a track record of being regressive and reluctant to change. Whether it be civil rights laws, laws in regard to sexuality or the banning of evolution being taught in schools, the south has always had a slower progression than Northern states. The setting of the Inherit the Wind is Hillsboro, Tennessee, a small town in southern United States. The five most illiterate cities in the United States are either southern cities or small towns. Small town culture in the 1950s further signifies that people would tend to have conservative and outdated ideologies by living amongst a smaller population. This lack of public knowledge is represented during the play through a conversation between Drummond and Bannister. Drummond asked him if he had ever read the Bible before, and Bannister answered: “Can’t read.” (page 39）Bannister represents ordinary people in southern United States at that time. Therefore, given the understanding that many people were illiterate, a sense of unsafety would result as well. This fear caused by ignorance leaves these uneducated folks vulnerable and incapable of challenging dominant ideologies.
Entertainment is a way to escape from the shadow of war that limits the depth and breadth of thinking. The 1950s was the introduction and popularization for many forms of entertainment. Televisions became a household item, and for the first time in human history is was common for everyone to own a radio. This wide spread entertainment culture is portrayed in Lawrence and Lee’s play. For instance, when people talked about the trial, they commented: “Everyone says it is going to be a show.” In this case, they were unconcerned about the actual truth of the trial. Instead, the people of the town viewed it as a talking point, that would be a source of entertainment. The ignorance caused by a strong focus on entertainment value gradually causes the public to see things from a superficial layer. There is little mention or talk about the evolution theory or of it’s specifics and validity. Thus fear of change is going to be produced by wrapping up in their thought-forms. As a result, people choose to not to think outside of daily life, this will only results the same social status. Due to the special geographical areas of the play and mass entertainment in the 1950s, the sense of unsafety and indifference of truth brings little change to the society.
Christianity is the dominant religion in American society. During the 1950’s Christianity’s influence on the public was powerful, religious leaders were intimidated by deconstruction of power and everyday people suffered from cognitive dissonance.
The fear in real life comes from losing status and power. For example, the authors create the character Brady that fulfills the archetype of William Jenning Bryan in history, Bryan was both a democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist. In the powerful years for Christian society during first half of 20th century, it seemed reasonable to say that he could achieve such high position due to their identity as a fundamentalist. Bryan is the expert of a specific and special subject - the Bible, which means once the society does not recognize the Bible any more, the Christian society would collapse. Therefore, teaching the theory of evolution has been banned in American classrooms in Tennessee by the strong supports of Bryan from 1925 to 1967. Based on the image of Bryan, the character Brady whom is developed by the author once said to public: “I am here to defend that which is most precious in the hearts of all the Living Truth of the Scriptures.” (page 20) It is not hard to see that words like “most” and “all” indicated the anxious heart of Brady to maintain the Bible. Both of them believed that as long as people know nothing about the theory of evolution, the Bible is still the only truth in the world and Christians would continue to rule the society.
On the other hand, cognitive dissonance is another factor that inhibits the progress of modern thoughts. Before the 60’s and the 70’s revolution, people in America haven’t yet gone through a social upheaval. As faithful fundamentalists, they have been taught to believe in the Bible from childhood and they reject any opposing views to their faith. The theory of evolution indicates that people evolved from monkeys which conflicts with the Bible which states that God created human beings. Many people who belong to a particular religion have a hard time holding two conflicting thoughts. Brady once mentions “The bible satisfies me, it is enough”, this quote is revealing that religion provides a sense of comfort. Given this understanding, it is easy to comprehend why people become so dismissive to new ideas. Hillsboro finds difficulty in making steps towards change because of the threat that loss of power presents as well as the hold cognitive dissonance has on people’s mind.
Uncertainty fuels ideas of instability and fear, the unknown has always plagued human existence. American society was faced with many challenges in the 1950’s due to the threat of communism. In Inherit The Wind, science is used as a parallel to communism because of the shared newfound concepts they presented.
Science is a subject that is endlessly exploring and discovering the new. For some this represents instability and results in uncertainty. Humanity hadn’t experienced the scientific and technological advancements like the 60’s and 70’s, so people were skeptical about science in the 1950s. Religion is different, everything is written in the Bible with certainty, which provides a sense of safety for people. Brady signifies this faith as he says : “Hopeful, I think is the word. We must look hopeful.” This quote further explains why so many people hold their belief, faith can give them the things for certain that science could not provide.
Moreover, Inherit the Wind mirrors the Red Scare during the Cold War in the 1950s. At that time, the Cold War started and the international situation remained tense and turbulent. American society was suffused with the red scare which was the fear of a rising potential of communism that may subvert and take over United States. Therefore, McCarthyism was born, an ideology rooting off all the communists in America. Then, lots of policies has come out to against the communism. It is interesting to notice that the Red Scare and the play shared different stories but the same ideology: fear of change due to uncertainty. The authors used the present as a reference to write this play, the theory of evolution is referred to Communism, and the supporters of McCarthyism is similar to Brady in the play. In Inherit the Wind, Drummond asked Brady about the theory of evolution :‘Never read it?”, Brady answered: “And I never will.” (page 86) These two concepts works similarly in that people were not familiar with the specifics of communism, however they do not like the sense of uncertainty. By exaggerated propaganda of Communism, sweeping all the communists out of America became a major task at that time. Compared to Inherit the Wind, banning not to teach the theory of evolution is the main motive in the society. The resemblance between communism and science as newfound ways of thinking serve as the reason for why people are so reluctant to move forward.
Humans have a tendency to fear change, this has been proven time and time again throughout the course of history. Inherit the Wind exemplifies this fear and parallels it to American society during the 1950’s. Through it’s irony, and satire Lawrence and Lee express their disapproval of the government’s behavior and the mainstream society. The authors use ignorance, loss of power and uncertainty to demonstrate how people can refuse to evolve and grow. Lack of knowledge is attributed to the Southern town culture and the immense entertainment of the 1950s. Moreover, the fear of religious leaders losing status and spirituality causes the society to maintain rigid. More importantly, the panic induced by a sense of uncertainty mainly comes from rapid scientific development and fear of communism. The author used the play as a reflection of 1950s in order to satirize the present, the closed mind eventually propels a conservative society.