This reality serves to engender an understanding as to how the movie presented its biases, and for what reasons. The film, therefore, comments upon the verdict of the actual case that it attempts to recreate whenever it presents a very open and obvious bias against one of the two sides involved in the aforementioned trial. This bias serves to, almost entirely, discredit the prosecution of the Scopes Trial, and praise the trials defense. The character representing William J. Bryan in the movie, Matthew H. Brady, portrays Bryan as a nervous, attention seeking, vociferous, overly confident and parochial in his conservatism, zealous Christian that does not want to allow the case’s defense to win because of his own pride and because of his own refusal to accept another’s point of view.
In contrast, the character representing Clarence Darrow, Henry Drummond, is portrayed as an honest man, tired of being pushed to the ground by religion, seeking to win the case for the defense only through rational and non-ostentatious means. The movie also portrays the people of Dayton as being militantly against the visitors coming in from the north, and even portrays them as cult member like in the movies scene of the sermon in the woods. The movie also adds characters that did not exist in the actual trial, in its plot. The preacher and his daughter did not represent real people and, considering the depiction of the sermon in the woods, whose oration is provided by the fictional preacher, and the calling to the witness stand of the preacher’s daughter, an important witness because she was Bertram Cates’ fiance, Cates being the movie’s version of Scopes, and the vehement interrogation of the girl provided by a seemingly heartless Matthew Brady, or William J. Bryan, the movie completely slants the story and plot against Bryan and the prosecution.
The defense, namely Henry Drummond and Bertram Cates, are portrayed as very innocent and honest people. Bertram Cates is arrested because of his earnest belief that the theory of Evolution should be thought in school, attempting to show Scopes as a scientific idealist, when, in truth, Scopes was not arrested as a martyr for science as much as a member of a plot. He did not, in reality, stand up and teach evolution inside the classroom because he believed in the theory; he merely responded to an add made by the ACLU, whose aim was to spark a debate hoping that it could lead to the striking down of the Butler Law; the Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of Evolution, or any other theory of creation contradicting the Biblical account, inside the classroom. The movie not only states in its introduction that it does not attempt to mount its own plot as historical fact, it also states that many of the events depicted in the movie were altered or invented. This bias in the movie is accounted for by the movies attempt to address, through its plot, criticism to the McCarthy eras excesses4. The director and playwright made use, for the radicalization of the movie and play’s antagonists, of techniques not at all alien to the realm of the Scopes Trial itself.
During the opening days of the Scopes Trial, Defense Attorney Arthur Garfield Hays created a fictitious act to use for drawing parallels in between its fictitious content and the content of the Butler law. The conclusion of the act was that any teacher or professor caught disseminating the ideas that the earth is not the center of the universe, and that the earth and the planets move around the sun “upon conviction shall be put to death”. 5 The movie portrays the arguments of the prosecution as being founded upon irrational fears, engendered by a religion fearful of change. It omits, however, the unreasonableness of some of the defenses arguments.
Equating a fine alongside incarceration to death is just as asinine and extreme as the sermon in the woods, against Drummond and Cates, made by the fictional preacher. The former event actually occurred, however, while the latter was a fictitious creation. The movie also places a lot of emphasis on Brady’s, indirectly reflecting on Bryan, propensity for long speeches, filled with extremist references, and parochial inculcations of invective and anti-Evolution vitriol. But Clarence Darrow had such a propensity, a great omission made by the movie. Darrow was the first to make a major speech, and his was in the defense of Religious Liberty. In his speech made during the scopes trial he compares the Butler law to s brazen and as bold an attempt to destroy learning as was ever made in the middle ages, and the only difference is that we have not provided that shall be burned at the stake , but there is time for that, your Honor.
6 It is, once again, ridiculous to make such extreme accusations, while disapproving with a direct opposition for having made arguments seen as based on a fear that was not relevant. After all, Darrow called students up to the witness stand who could testify that their study of Evolution did not affect their Christian underpinnings7. This was done only to prove that the prosecutions views were based on a fear, which was not based on something real. But Darrow’s, as well as his teams, fears that a law could lead to witch trials were just as extreme and unfounded.
This fact, however, was also omitted from the movies rendition. Darrow also says that “if this proceeding both n form and substance can prevail in this court, then your Honor, no law-no matter how foolish, wicked, ambiguous, or ancient-but can come back to Tennessee”8. This statement shows that while in the movie the people of Dayton are shown as being hostile towards the outsiders pouring in, in reality, an argument can be made that the outsiders were hostile themselves, especially when it came to their bashing of the Tennesseans’ intellect. I believe that this shows just how much either both sides shared in their propensity for committing simple fallacies, or, definitively, how much the movie altered of the real story through its biases. Darrow himself was not as calm and composed as the movie depicted him.
Upon finding out that the defense of Scopes would be provided, free of charge, by Darrow, even the ACLU withdrew its bid to provide support for Scopes. While Darrow and Bryan had a good history together, one of support and campaigning for the liberalization and universal diffusion of constitutional rights and prerogatives, Darrow was always viewed by many as a militant and outspoken atheist, while Bryan was viewed as a moderate social reformist. And there was reason to back up such suppositions. However, once the onus of total, unquestionable adherence was placed upon the, as portrayed in the movie, blind and sheepish folk of Tennessee, the true underpinnings of Bryans political career, his championing of women’s rights and desegregation became so overlooked that Darrow’s own radical contributions to the history of the Scopes trial were completely disregarded. Bryan was a presidential candidate running on a very liberal platform; and the right hand man of his campaign, his campaign manager, was Darrow.
These men’s histories were intertwined since before the trial. Of course, Bryan could still be looked upon as the main ideologue of the two; this being a result of his strict adherence to his promises and to his ideals. Bryan withdrew from his position as President Wilson’s Secretary of State because of the President’s decision to plunge the country into World War One. This instance alone can show how zealous Bryan could be. This fact, Bryan’s zealousness, is constantly referred to in the movie. But it is never placed in a light that could remove doubt from a first time observer’s inclination to believe that all of Bryan’s dearly held ideals could be of a les radical nature.
It is most definitely true that Bryan was a conservative because of his religion, but it is false to assume that he was always radical. Darrow, after all, did offer his help free of charge, and did do quite a bit on his own to stoke the flames of dissent amongst Americans. Another greatly overlooked aspect of the trial was its commercial nature. It wasn’t almost at all about Scopes’s innocence, but about which of the two sides battling for the soul of America was more correct.
The trial itself did little to address Scopes’ conviction. It was rather a large stage from which onlookers could be persuaded to either believe in Christianity’s accuracy or the Atheistic assumption that the Bible was interpretable therefore not possibly in direct opposition to science itself. The contention that the word of God was up for interpretation was a complete snub to the Southern Christians’ outlook on moral purity. With such a notion floating about, that the word of God is not in any one-sense definitive; what was viewed by the rural community as modern days’ propensity for godless excesses found more illegitimate gratification.
This fight therefore was also one that encompassed the fear that the rural community had for the American public’s drive to rebel. Both of the sides that presented their reasoning in front of the judge deciding Scopes’ fate were in truth fighting for ulterior motives. Both sides chose to defend one aspect of a changing society’s views. This technique was a guaranteed success when it came to creating publicity, so the original planners of the event were not at all without satisfaction about what they created. In the end, the Prosecution and the Defense both had long monologues parochially accusing one another of grave crimes, and completely ignoring the real purpose of the trial.
Bryan eventually led to his own downfall because of his own pride and compliance. The most grievous fact about this failure on Bryan’s part was how it was viewed as a victory for the defense. The defense was therefore not in the business of making its defendant look right, but rather, it was in the business of proving that its own opposition was wrong about the accuracy of religion. This verdict in itself would have no power to actually acquit Scopes, as it was impotent when it came to proving that the Butler law was not violated. The movie is most certainly biased. This conclusion is not only derived from the movies own admitted bias, but also from the contrast which can be made in between the events that occurred in the actual Scopes trial, and the ones shown in Inherit the Wind.
First off, the movie itself draws no distinction in between the arguments made in the favor of the Butler Law. The movie presents religious arguments only, and omits any of the other arguments made by the prosecution. The prosecution’s main argument against the defendant, Scopes, was that because of his employment as a teacher, a teacher whose employers wished for him to propagate only certain ideologies, he was not legally able to teach evolution, and his actions were a breach against this prohibition leading to his being arrested for his endeavors9. The prosecution made the argument that due to the fact that taxpayer’s money was being used to fund the schools, and the taxpayers in this case were not comfortable with their children’s learning about Evolution, the law had real power to enforce the taxpayer’s will. 0 These arguments were nowhere present in the movie’s plot.
The legal battle in between Darrow and Bryan surely did descend into a fight over the disputed hegemony of evolution over religion, but the movie misrepresents the case, in my opinion, when it only deals with this specific aspect of the trial. The movie itself is justified in its biased approach to the events of the Scopes trial, but only because it attempted to shed light on the wrongs of the McCarthy era. In its simplistic approach to the case it not only contradicts documents, but it even misrepresents the positions of the prosecution and defense.
Moran, Jeffrey. The Scopes Trial A Brief History with Documents.
Bedford, 2002. Class Notes March 17-19, 2014Kramer, Stanley. “Inherit the Wind. ” Stanley Kramer Productions November 1960.