Twelve Angry Men shows that personal prejudices can influence how a jury reaches a verdict.
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This play is not about jury behavior or jury psychology or jury sociology. The jury room is the mise-en-scene. It is where and under what circumstances the play’s dramatic conflict takes place, but it is about what prejudices people carry around with themselves, built on personal experiences, on which they make decisions and act. It is a mistake to think that Reginald Rose was interested in or an expert on jury psychology—he is not suggesting that the jury room has made the men have the attitudes they have. The jury room is simply the “boiling pot,” the situation in which people differ but can’t leave, so their differences “heat up.” This is one of the essential elements of dramatic action; marriage is a common example, as are prisons, families, etc. Rose is interested in how personalities react to “boiling pot” situations, and what is revealed about subtle inner personality traits. If, in examining this work, we concentrate on the minor characters, not just Jurors #3 and #8, we can see how the play is about 12 angry men, not just #8. Each jury member has a past that he has brought to the decision. One juror, #5, even thinks his vote can cancel out previous prejudicial opinions of the streets he grew up in. Juror #4 thinks that his superior reasoning power should win the day, etc. So, yes, personal prejudices shape our decision-making, in all aspects of life.
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