The Audience’s Response to Brady: Mixed Feelings and Complex Characterization
Upon viewing Inherit the Wind, the audience leaves Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee’s play with such a conflict of emotions due to the playwrights’ constant changing of the audience’s perspective on Brady’s character, and through the transformation of his personality from hubris to delusion, and finally to a sense of broken realisation, the audience leaves the play with such a wheel of opinions that it is difficult to interpret Brady’s character as a whole throughout the play. The playwrights convey Brady to the audience, in the first parts of the play, as arrogant and proud; this initial sense of grandiloquence and self-confidence creates an elevated aura about Brady, thus making his fall from greatness all the more pronounced, whilst maximising the contrast of his personality in the former to the latter parts of the play.
The playwrights achieve such effects by creating anticipation to the arrival of Brady through the anxiety and excitement of the townsfolk, manifesting itself in their conversations, such as ‘Imagine. Matthew Harrison Brady comin’ here … I seen him once,’ thus immersing the audience into the townsfolk’s almost godly opinion of Brady, conveyed by the proudness and incredulity of having ‘seen him once.’ Upon his arrival, the townsfolk’s opinions of Brady seem to be vindicated through the eloquence and appeal of his speech, described as ‘When Brady speaks, there can be no doubt of his personal magnetism,’ made more vivid by contrast of the clumsiness of the Mayor’s speech, ‘Mr. President Wilson wouldn’t never have got to the White House,’ using the obtuseness of the double negative and colloquialism to paint Brady in an even greater light. Brady is set up from the outset as conceited and self-obsessed by the playwrights on account of his attitude that he will without doubt win the trial, contrasted with the sympathy the audience feel for the modest and shy Bert Cates, whose language, ‘(Trying to cheer [Rachel] up) You know something funny? … you’d better not tell anyone how cool it is down there, or we’ll have a crime wave ever summer,’ is light-hearted and humane, despite being in a troubling situation, thus providing a sharp contrast to the self-centred and arrogant Brady. Despite the audience’s initial opinion of Brady’s strong reputation and ability as a speaker, the grandiloquence and hubris of his fighting calls that ‘the whole world will be watching our victory over Drummond,’ is somewhat undermined by his bathetic over-indulgence in food – ‘it would be a pity to see them go to waste,’ – leaving the audience’s high view of Brady’s charisma and reputation as an orator dented, and an impression of materialism and the dramatic irony of his and the Bible’s hypocrisy hinted, as Scene 1 draws to a close.
As the narrative progresses, the trial itself sees the audience’s support of Drummond and Cates heighten due to the consideration and morality of the former whilst in court, compared to the patronising and sly methods employed by Matthew Harrison Brady. The immediate contrast of personalities is displayed in the opening stage directions of Scene 2 between the modesty and candour of ‘Cates sits beside Drummond at a counsel table,’ compared to ‘Brady sits grandly at another table,’ immediately displaying his arrogance, whilst ‘fanning himself with benign self-assurance,’ utilises dramatic irony to paint a picture of Brady’s false confidence and haughtiness, thus making more pronounced the audience’s opinion of Brady’s foolishness. The trial manifests the humility and kindness of Drummond and the lack thereof of Brady. When Howard is called to the stand in Act 2, Scene 1, he is described as ‘wretched in a starched collar and Sunday suit,’ and thus nervous about the prospect of appearing in court. Brady’s mannerisms and speech when talking to Howard are, especially when contrasted with Drummond, sly and harsh. Brady twists Howard by saying, ‘Along with the dogs and cattle in the field: did he say that?’ thus putting words into Howard’s mouth, much to the disapproval of Drummond – ‘about to protest against prompting the witness,’ – yet Brady’s slyness is further manifested in, ‘(Howard gulps. Brady points at the boy.) I tell you, if this law is not upheld, this boy will become one of a generation,’ which adds to the audience’s view of Brady a sense of heartlessness and insensitivity through his ‘pointing’ at a young and terrified child, all just to try and further his case to the court. This view is furthered when contrasted to Drummond’s mannerisms with Howard – ‘He punches Howard’s right arm playfully,’ and, ‘Drummond turns back to the boy in a pleasantly familiar manner,’ – providing a sharp contrast between the kind and personable Drummond and the harsh and unethical Brady.
The latter stages of the play see Brady’s fall from pride and arrogance, and the transformation of the audience’s opinions of him from loathing of his hubris, to a sense of sympathy for his exposed weakness and fragility of mind. This change of Brady’s portrayal for the audience is the principal factor for the conflict of feelings in the audience’s mind between a sense of justice over Brady’s emotional loss, and a pathetic light over apparent inner troubles. When Drummond calls Brady to the stand, the playwrights have him adopt an aura of further grandiosity in his mannerisms, as exemplified by ‘His air is that of a benign and learned mathematician about to be quizzed by a schoolboy on matters of short division,’ combined with the confident chiasmus of ‘I am more interested in the rock of ages than I am in the age of rocks,’ so portraying his self-assumed arrogance and superiority over Drummond. Thus the playwrights evoke furthered will in the audience’s mind for Brady to tumble from his high horse, hence making more significant Brady’s diffident admittance that there could be flaws in the Holy Bible – ‘It is … possible…’ which through the utilisation of the ellipses provides a sharp contrast from Brady’s apparent self-assurance and eloquence to signal the beginning of the crumbling of his case and his emotional strength, whilst the audience is eager for the final nails to be knocked into Brady’s coffin. As Drummond proceeds to disprove and dismiss Brady and his case, the latter, on his emotional downfall clings desperately onto listing the books of the Bible before ending the scene in a pathetic and weak light – ‘‘I can’t stand it when they laugh at me’… Mrs. Brady sways gently back and forth, as if rocking a child to sleep’ – leaving the audience in a conflict of feeling a sense of justice whilst simultaneously a sense of sympathy is evoked for the wounded Brady. As court resumes the following day, and the sentence is ruled, Brady, ‘in comparative shadow’ protests the ruling and commencing another Bible-fuelled discourse, ‘from the hallowed hills of Mount Sinai,’ his words cease – ‘his lips move, but nothing comes out,’ and as he falls to the ground, Brady, ‘in a strange, unreal voice,’ begins his undelivered inauguration speech – ‘as your new president, I can say what I have said all of my life,’ thus the playwrights, in the audience’s final view of Brady, evoke through Brady’s threefold failure to be voted in as president pathos among the audience for his clear mental devastation and pining over this loss. This same mental deterioration is manifested in ‘as if something sealed up inside of him were finally broken,’ which makes clear the sense of Brady’s masquerade of arrogance to cover up his feelings of insufficiency throughout the play, thus inviting a sense of partial understanding over his apparent arrogance, combined with an undoubted sense of pathos as the broken and wrecked figure of Brady leaves the stage.
The playwrights portray Brady in such different lights throughout the play – from arrogance and hubris, to slyness and a pathetic sense of Brady in the end as his emotions and his case crumble. Those final scenes, and Brady’s obvious deep-seated devastation over the loss of his three presidential races are revealed by the playwrights to offer some reasoning for his previous arrogance, thus the audience is left with a conflict of emotions, remembering both the haughty Brady in the former stages of the play and a sense of justice, combined with the broken and wretched Brady who leaves us in the final scene with a pathetic mood.
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