So. I finished reading Part Two of Summer for the Gods, and it is now 2:49 in the morning. This blog is due at noon, but I have class from 10-12. So bear with me as I struggle to fully understand what the word “contingency” even means, as my brain is probably not in the best state of mind to have a stellar vocabulary.
This section took a long time to read. However, I was never bored with it. Larson does a fantastic job of incorporating just enough details to immerse you in the events of the trial. Small things like Scopes being a chain smoker, or the description of the courtroom’s atmosphere helped me to fully visualize the trial and the people surrounding it. Speaking of people, there are a couple honorable mentions that I’d like to point out:
First off is Walter White, the superintendent of Rhea County Schools.
There’s also Sue K. Hicks, the real-life Boy Named Sue.
But as for the actual trial, the whole thing played out just as dramatically as it would have if it had been a film instead of, well, actual events. In fact, I found a lot of events in the book that were played straight in Inherit the Wind. Sure, there were some slow parts with poor pacing, like the extended recesses to figure out if they could actually use scientists as witnesses, or choosing a jury of farmers and Smoky Mountain yokels. But there were also the super-intense trial scenes, like Darrow’s two hour closing argument one day over the illegality of the antievolution statute “because it established a particular religious viewpoint in the public schools.” Honestly, while I was reading that, I was in awe. Darrow made so many blunt, spot-on points that I was surprised the prosecutors didn’t just leave Dayton with a “Welp, I’m out.” He dropped so many truth bombs over religious freedom, education, ignorance, etc. that I couldn’t believe Bryan kept his spot as the favorite.
There’s so much more I could go into (I highlighted a bunch quotes), but I need to get to the actual prompt for today’s blog, and that is to discuss the historian’s concept of “contingency” as it relates to the trial discussed in Part 2. Well, to my understanding at 3:21 AM, contingency has something to do with the sequence of events, right? All the what-if factors? Well . . . that wasn’t quite what was going on in my head as I was reading this. Normally, I do have a lot of what-if moments (i.e. What if the aid had just left Stauffenberg’s briefcase on the side of the table leg where the Colonel had originally put it? Would Hitler have been killed?), but in this case it seemed (to me, at least) like a clear cut stream of events. This led to this, that led to that . . . I guess when they were making choices about their teams? Like which defenders and prosecutors to choose?
Oh wait, I just thought of one: the choice to host the trial in Dayton, the small, religious Tennessee town that really participated in building up the hype around the whole thing. Or making Scopes the defendant. He wasn’t even a regular biology teacher; what if they had just chosen to go with Superintendent White instead? But that’s not possible, he teaches chemistry, not biology and evolution.
I’m sorry. I’ll stop.
But anyway, I guess there were tons of different possibilities for how things could have turned out. One could even go far back enough as to wonder what would happen if people had taken the news of Darwinism differently. Like if public opinion (especially in religious circles) hadn’t gone immediately sour towards it. Or if they had dug up Mendelian genetics earlier and provided the mechanism to how it all worked. Or if Mendel’s work had gone public immediately instead of getting stuffed in a drawer for however many decades. WHAT IF BRYAN AND/OR DARROW HAD DECIDED NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE TRIAL AT ALL.
I rescind my previous statement. Yes, there were so many possibilities as to how all of this could have turned out, but I think that Larson made the wise choice not to dwell on them. His narrative is very linear and chronological, which makes for a much easier read. This is the kind of nonfiction book that I can actually get into.