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In Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men we see a jury struggle to come up with a verdict in a capital murder trial. The jury is composed of a group of diverse (although not diverse in a racial or gender-based way) men that frequently conflict over how to arrive at an appropriate verdict.
After the second vote, some of the jurors are unhappy that two jurors have now voted not guilty.
Immediately after the second vote, hot-headed juror 3 responds this way:
THREE (standing up angrily). What do you mean? There are no secrets in here! I know who it was. (He turns to FIVE.) What’s the matter with you? You come in here and you vote guilty and then this slick preacher starts to tear your heart out with stories about a poor little kid who just couldn’t help becoming a murderer. So you change your vote. If that isn’t the most sickening—
The fact that this may not turn out to be an “open and shut” case is disappointing to jurors who want to see the young defendant executed or who just want to get the whole process over with as quickly as possible.
One of the primary themes of the play is that of prejudice. Just as in real life, people bring preconceptions and hasty judgments to the decision-making process. As the play unfolds, we see the prejudices of several of the jurors. The suspense and drama we experience comes from the other jurors' attempts to make them see why they are wrong.
Juror 5 is a soft-spoken man who is from a poor neighborhood. When juror 3 accuses him of changing his vote, the implication is that he changed his vote because he is similar in some way to the defendant. This bit of prejudice does not sit well with juror 11, who is himself a member of a minority group. He can understand why prejudice would be offensive. Juror 9 then admits that it was he who changed his vote, not 5, stating that he believed that they should give the case more thought before rushing to a verdict.
This is the beginning of the exposure of several instances of prejudice or outright hatred on the part of a number of jurors. Eventually, open-mindedness and rational thought win out and the jurors find the defendant not guilty.
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