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It is hard to write about people without using stereotypes, but doing so serves a very useful function: readers can relate to stereotypes. Without stereotypes confusion can exist for a reader if they fail to initially internalize what kind of person is being described. Without the cue of a stereotype, a person normally struggles with defining a character- even if they are given a direct characterization.
I concur with literaturenerd's remarks, but I wonder if there is another level to this play. The 12 men, who are rather stereotypical, as they sit in judgment, begin their deliberations with stereotypes of the defendant. As the play unfolds, they begin to stereotype the defendant less, and in doing so, they themselves become a little less stereotypical and seem to be more rounded characters. Does this mean that we grow as people when we abandon stereotypes in our thinking? I would like to think so.
Another way of looking at a stereotype in literature is to think of it as an archetype. As literaturenerd points out, we are given a kind of "shorthand" way of placing a character into the overall scheme of things, and this is valuable to us as readers. Is the protagonist the hero or the bad guy? Who is the princess? Who is the old crone? Jungian literary analysis, viewed from another perspective, is the analysis of the stereotype.
Rose's characters are fairly stereotypical (wall street nerd, public avenger, crusader for human right...etc), but as someone else pointed out, I think the point of the play is that when one thinks rationally and not emotionally, even the most jaded soul can see the light.
While I am not generally a fan of developing characters stereotypically, I think Rose does a masterful job starting out with black and white characters, but then moving them into shades of gray as they grow.
I agree with other editors in the way that this excellent play does not really try to present itself as being free of stereotypes. Rather its focus is on the way that good can eventually triumph over bigotry and stereotypes if we struggle hard enough. Stereotypes are unfortunately a fact of life that cannot be ignored, and it is interesting that the jurors themselves in their characters do not really challenge stereotypes.
I'm not sure of the purpose for starting this discussion. Were you looking for support in criticizing the author for using stereotypical characterizations of the jurors and defendant? Were you looking for reactions to the use of stereotypes as a short-cut in the process of writing? Were you wondering if the use of stereotypes is justified?
I think there have been many posts illustrating the value of stereotypes in enriching and enhancing the readers' understanding of characters and their actions and emotions. As a type of literary shorthand, I find stereotypes to be useful and completely appropriate.
Reginald Rose's personal experience formed the foundation for Twelve Angry Men. It was based on his own experience on a criminal trial jury. As a writer, Rose understood the eleven people he was isolated with as he might understand potential characters. He also understood that all jurors have only enough exposure to each other to see typical characteristics (characteristics that correspond to types or even stereotypes). This experiential reality is expressed in his play. It would be unrealistic and inauthentic to develop characters fully in a jury setting. In fact, it is the typical characterizations that lend some of the suspense and drama to the play because each character is shown to be entrenched in their point of view and perspective.
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