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The protagonist of the play, Henry Drummond, first comes on stage in the conversation of others who know his reputation. In fact, the people of Hillsboro gasp when they hear that he will be Cates' defense attorney, for they know that he is highly skilled. The narrow-minded townspeople detest him because he has defended people in the past whom they consider indefensible. When Drummond finally appears in person, he is upstaged by the flamboyant and charismatic Matthew Harrison Brady. He is only on the fringes of several scenes at the opening of the play, indicating his marginal status in the community of Hillsboro; it is obvious that Brady is greatly preferred over Drummond.
In the beginning of the play, Drummond appears to be a quiet man. He encourages and instructs Cates, his defendant, in a mild manner. He refuses to react to the prejudice shown against him and his client in the town. He attends the prayer meeting as a silent observer, even though he must have been horrified at what he experiences there. He quietly calls attention to the fact that Brady has stagnated in his philosophical growth. In this technique of introducing such an important character in such a quiet way, the authors Lawrence and Lee make Drummond seem like the underdog. As a result, the audience and the reader quickly come to his support.
Drummond manages slowly but surely to rise from his underdog status. He works this magic in the courtroom as he demonstrates in his methods of questioning witnesses that he respects people's integrity above the goal of winning the case. When Drummond cross-examines Howard, the young boy from Cates' class, he is not condescending and demanding like Brady; instead, he asks Howard pointed questions which invite the student's own thinking. When Rachel Brown is reduced to tears by Brady, Drummond does not even call her to the stand for cross- examination, even though it could damage his case. Drummond, however, is most successful in proving his worth when he puts Brady on the witness stand. Through a series of simple questions, Drummond leads him to exposing his own fundamental, foolish, and irrational ways. In the process, Drummond wins the people in the courtroom to his point of view.
The end of the play brings out Drummond's nobility of character. When Brady dies, he grieves for the man and his loss of honor, even though he has been his opponent. When Cates questions him about the expense of an appeal, he states he did not come to Hillsboro for money. Although he has won a moral victory in the trial, he is not celebrating and seeking publicity. Most importantly, he shows that he is mature enough to accept both the teachings of the Bible and of Darwin. It is a touching and symbolic moment when Drummond closes the play by placing the two books quietly into his briefcase.