Inherit the Wind Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for Inherit the Wind

Symbolism and Themes in Inherit the Wind


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

The Importance of Progress

Drummond and Brady were once good friends; Drummond even supported Brady’s bids for the presidency. Alone, Brady reminds Drummond of that and wonders why they have grown so far apart. Drummond responds, “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away—by standing still.” These words are a sharp rebuke of Brady and leave him stunned. Drummond is saying to Brady that progress is coming to their world, but in Brady’s stubborn refusal to accept anything other than the Bible’s literal word, he is doing himself a disservice. He is not progressing; he is falling behind while the rest of the world marches forward. In Drummond’s examination of Brady on the stand, he comments that the advance of man’s knowledge is a miracle, but progress has never been a bargain. In being able to reason, as humankind was “plagued” to do by God, sometimes we are lead in a different direction. This is progress.

Freedom of Thought

The very act of sharing an idea has put Bertram Cates into prison, and on trial. Freedom to think is also on trial here, as Drummond points out. Bert is threatened with a fine and imprisonment because he chose to share what he thinks with his class. His academic freedom to share ideas with his students is at stake, and will set the stage for other cases that will come forward against the Butler Act and other laws that force church and state together.


To Drummond, “right” is unimportant; truth is what drives him and drives this case. The truth of the case is that the law is unjust in limiting ideas and the spread of those ideas. This is censorship, and violates the separation of church and state and the freedom of speech, both of which are protected by the Constitution.

Later, Drummond tells Cates an anecdote about a rocking horse he once wanted, named Golden Dancer. He used to stand outside of the general store and think that if he had Golden Dancer, he’d have everything. Drummond finally got Golden Dancer for his birthday, and as he sat on it to rock, it broke in two. The craftsmanship of the horse on the inside was poor, disguised by the artwork and accessories on the outside. He uses this anecdote to point out to Bert that everything that glitters is not gold, and he needs to show it up for the lie that it is. Truth should not be hidden behind a coat of paint; it is what should guide everyone, and everyone - even Brady, as Drummond later points out - should have the right to be wrong, as long as he is being truthful.

Motifs & Symbols

The Radio

The radio man, Harry Esterbrook, brings in his microphone to capture the first public event ever broadcast on radio. This represents progress, albeit technological progress, sneaking its way into the small town of Hillsboro. The fact that people all over the country are able to witness the unfair verdict in favor of a possibly unconstitutional law, will drum up support for Bert and his plight. It is progress into the modern world, one that is governed by science and technology, rather than religion and superstitions.

Darwin’s Book

Darwin’s book Origin of Species represents the importance of free thought. Bert’s inability to even present this opposing theory of evolution flies in the face of the First Amendment, and seriously restricts the children's abilities to learn more about other beliefs.

The Verdict

The verdict sets up an appeal on a much larger stage. The appeal will bring the case even further into the public eye, and fosters conversation about whether opposing thoughts can be censored in public schools in favor of a religious theory. The verdict prompts the reader to think back to the theme of truth, which should guide all decisions and laws. Honest truth allows for both sides to be presented, and perhaps, like Rachel says, the sickly ideas will die off if they are truly harmful to society.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard depicting themes, symbols, and motifs from the story.

  1. Use the template provided by your teacher.
  2. In the left column, identify themes, symbols, or motifs.
  3. In the right column, describe their importance to the story.
  4. Illustrate each example with appropriate characters, scenes, and items.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.
Grid Examples


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