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Twelve Angry Men

by Reginald Rose

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How is justice depicted in Twelve Angry Men?

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In Twelve Angry Men, justice is shown when the jury concludes the defendant's innocence, having discussed the evidence and shared their views. Initially, most of the jurors are willing to vote quickly and, having done their civic duty, leave. Juror Eight refuses to take their shared responsibility this lightly. In discussing the case, many of the jurors’ prejudices are uncovered. They eventually are able to overcome their biases and jointly conclude an innocent verdict is warranted.

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In the play Twelve Angry Men, it is arguable to say that justice is served in the end, despite of the opinions, perspectives, points of view, and schema of the twelve men who were responsible for the outcome of the trial.

The fact that justice was served is nothing short of a miracle, but it also denotes the power of incisive questioning, focus, and the indomitable character of Juror 8.

It is noteworthy to point out that justice is not a term to be used loosely in this play. Essentially, justice is no longer a treatment that will determine the outcome of a case.

In this particular case, justice is FATE; it will determine the kid's life and what it will become. This is why it is imperative that the jury is not only fair, but empathetic, humanistic, and responsible. Is this the case in the play? Sadly, not at first.

Since this is what is known as a "Murder One" case, or a capital murder case, it is, as it is said at the beginning of the play: "the most serious case tried in our criminal courts."

This said, notice the heavy burden that the jury of such a case must carry, and what a formidable task it is to carry out proper justice when the stakes are so high. This is all done in the name of the Constitution and the Sixth Amendment.

Yet, all of this also also entails a more delicate premise: that the 12 jurors must be in the same mindset of wanting justice carried out.

...it is now your duty to sit down to try and separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. [...] the verdict must be unanimous. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. You are faced with a grave responsibility. Thank you, gentlemen.

As you can see, justice is quite a powerful concept, and an outcome that carries a myriad of consequences and responsibilities. Do we see this mindset of justice carried out from the start? Absolutely not.

As a matter of fact, here are the most dangerous aspects of justice in this case:

  • Most of the jurors were already biased against the accused.
  • The jurors were not unanimously motivated to fulfill their duties as assigned (i.e: honestly and thoughtfully).
  • Some jurors did not even want to be there.
  • Other jurors were guided by personal bias or motivation
  • It took a lot of work from Juror 8 to even get the men to consider performing the tasks that they were supposed to be performing as a matter of course, and as established by the law.

Therefore, we can say that justice and the due process of the accused were interpreted completely different by each of the jurors, and none of their interpretations of it (except Juror 8) were formulated in the best interests of the law, the constitution and much less, the accused, who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

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Justice is shown in Twelve Angry Men when the jury ultimately concludes that the defendant is innocent of the crime or at least that the prosecution has not proved its case. The journey to justice and overcoming prejudice is what the play is about, as the action takes place entirely within the room in which the jury is impaneled and discusses the evidence that has been presented during the court case and shares their views about the evidence in the case and the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

As the play opens, we see that many of the jurors are willing to vote on the defendant’s innocence or guilt quickly without much deliberation. Having voted, many, if not most of them, feel that they have done their civic duty and can therefore leave and resume their lives. However, Juror Eight refuses to take their responsibility as jurors this lightly. A young man’s life hangs in the balance, and he, the defendant, deserves a full discussion of everything they know about his alleged crime to give him justice.

In the course of discussing his case, many of the jurors’ prejudices, biases specifically toward the defendant and even competing pressure from the outside world are uncovered. Yet, by the end of the play, each of the jurors has spent the time to search his understanding of the evidence and together conclude the defendant does not warrant a conviction.

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The emphasis in Twelve Angry Men is on rationality and reason as a medium for justice. Again and again, many jurors in the case show how they are not rationally focused on the matter at hand, namely deciding the guilt or innocence of a man accused of murder.

When analyzing how justice is achieved in the narrative while writing your assignment, it helps to show how irrationality almost derails justice. For example, jurors often bring their own biases or motivations into the trial, such as one juror who clearly has no interest in being there at all. He chooses whichever side he thinks is going to win instead of delivering an honest opinion about the outcome of the case.

Other jurors are angry about their own problems, such as having a son that they think doesn’t respect them enough, and they project that onto the case, accusing the young man on trial of a similar imagined temperament.

More than once, a vote is almost brought against the young man which would’ve resulted in his death from capital punishment because of these biases. The narrative shows justice as something that’s only achieved when rational actors force those around them to confront their bad beliefs or actions in the light of reason.

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Justice is shown in Twelve Angry Men to be a vulnerable thing indeed. It's only achieved in this particular case after a lengthy deliberation, and even then after one juror—juror 8—uses his charisma and powers of persuasion to convince the others of the defendant's innocence. The abiding message here is that justice cannot be taken for granted; if we want justice in society and in our legal system, we have to be prepared to stand up and fight for it, just like juror 8.

The downside of this concept of justice is that it's demanding; it challenges us to confront our deepest prejudices to get at the truth of the matter. Indeed, it's so demanding—albeit necessarily so—that many ordinary people called up for jury service feel unable to live up to its elevated standards.

We might well express horrified astonishment at the cavalier attitude of juror 7—who wants to knock off early so he can catch a baseball game—or outright contempt at the blatant bigotry of juror 3, but these are far from isolated examples of how some jury members, even in capital murder trials, actually behave. Twelve Angry Men tells us, in its quiet, yet insistent way, that justice in criminal cases is only as good as the individuals who make up the jury. And that's something that should concern us all.

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In Twelve Angry Men, justice is shown at the end of the story.  The duty of a Jury (the title characters) is to determine whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a wrongful act.  In the case ofTwelve Angry Men, a young man is accused of murder.  The case as presented was quite solid; the defendant had recently bought a switchblade, the switchblade seller said it was "one-of-a-kind," an eyewitness saw the defendant stab the victim overhand, another witness saw the defendant flee the scene, the defendant does not have an alibi.  

However, the jury finds some problems: one of the jurors owns a switch-blade identical to the murder weapon, the eye-witness who saw the crime was too far away to reliably identify the culprit, the other witness had credibility issues, and overhand stabbing is an extremely awkward and unorthodox method for a switchblade. 

Ultimately the jury finds that there is reasonable doubt about the defendant committing this murder, and returns the only proper verdict in this case: 'Not Guilty.'  Justice has been done.  

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How does the play "Twelve Angry Men" demonstrate that prejudice is a factor in every conflict?  

It is questionable whether Reginald Rose's 1954 play, Twelve Angry Men, suggests that prejudices are a factor in every conflict.  It does, though, certainly argue that racism can be a factor in supposedly impartial jury deliberations.

To a certain degree, and essential to the story for dramatic purposes, Rose's play presents a level of diversity, at least among Caucasian men, that exceeds what would normally occur in a modern jury, in which defense attorneys have an opportunity to screen potential jurors for signs of racial or ethnic prejudice.  Having said that, racism certainly can and does play a part in some criminal trials.  It is not, however, a factor in all conflicts.  

In Twelve Angy Men, there is one particularly virulent racist, Juror #10, who launches into angry tirades regarding Hispanics, the ethnicity of the defendant.  In the end, of course, the jury agrees to acquit the defendant when the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" prevails.

Rose's play is important in illustrating the manner in which prejudices can and do afflict the criminal justice system.  It is a stretch, however, to conclude that Twelve Angry Men is an indictment of all mankind for the role of race in conflicts in which race may very well not be a factor at all.

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In Twelve Angry Men, how is prejudice shown to interfere in the course of justice?

The story Twelve Angry Men shows a behind-the-scenes look at the deliberation between jurors as they essentially decide on the life of a young boy of Puerto Rican decent. The irony is that all of these men are middle-aged and white and find it difficult to sympathize with the marginalized and abused boy. They are tasked with deciding his fate, even when they do not care much for him.

There are obvious displays of prejudice throughout the work, as the characters make it clear that they care very little for the actual case at hand. Many of the jurors are clearly flippant and careless with the trial—wanting to get it over with as quickly as possible. Many of them sit without comment, so as not to delay the decision. One juror even mentions how he has movie tickets for later that he doesn't want to miss, so they should get along with making a decision.

Several jurors make explicitly derogatory remarks about the race and socioeconomic status of the boy in the trial. They comment on how "they" (meaning people of Puerto Rican descent) will always do this sort of thing (murder and violence), and talk about how violent and savage they are. The men's obvious discrimination hinders the true justice in the case.

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In Twelve Angry Men, how is prejudice shown to interfere in the course of justice?

Social, racial, and personal prejudices enter quickly into the jury room.

Immediately after some of the jurors enter the room where they are to deliberate over all that they have listened to for the last six days, there is evidence of prejudicial thinking:

No. 7 How did you like that business about the knife? Did you ever hear a phonier story?
No. 10 Well, look, you've gotta expect that. You know what you're dealing with. (He implies the socio-economic level and race of the defendant.)

Then, when the foreman asks all the men to be seated, No. 7 trivializes his duty and the magnitude of the decision about the life of the defendant with his flippant remark:

No. 7 This better be fast. I've got tickets to The Seven Year Itch tonight....

Later in the deliberation, No. 10 comments that he has lived among "them" all his life. "You can't believe a word they say. You know that." His lack of concern for the fate of the young defendant indicates his lack of respect for the boy's life. The boy is from the inner city and he has a past in which he has been arrested for car theft, mugging, and knife fighting. He has also gone to reform school for knifing someone. Juror No. 7 also forms opinions quickly, mainly because he wants to get out of the courthouse and do what he desires. 

Other jurors demonstrate prejudice. For instance, Juror No. 3 is described by author Reginald Rose as "extremely opinionated. . . intolerant of opinions other than his own. . . [and having] a streak of sadism." Wrongly, Juror No. 3 brings his bitterness over his relationship with his son, as well as his racial prejudices, into the jury room. At one point he turns on Juror No. 8, who only wants to be conscientious and give the defendant fair treatment. 

No. 3 You come in here with your heart bleeding. . . about slum kids and injustice and you make up these wild stories. . . . I'm getting real sick of it. . . . This kid is guilty! He's got to burn!

Juror No. 8 accuses this juror of wanting to see the boy die because he "personally want[s]" this to happen, "not because of the facts." Juror No. 3 screams, "I'll kill him."

If the unbiased, objective, and conscientious Juror No. 8 were not persistent in his pursuit of a just verdict for the defendant, the verdict would have been determined by men such as the biased jurors.

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In Twelve Angry Men, how is prejudice shown to interfere in the course of justice?

Let us remember that although justice is achieved at the end of the play, at the same time there is a sense that this is a very tenuous victory, as the forces of prejudice, apathy and bigotry that oppose justice show themselves to be very formidable indeed during the course of the play. Personal prejudice is most strongly evident in the characters of Juror Three and Juror Ten.

Consider how Juror Three is shown to judge the defendant harshly because of the own experience he has had with his son. He allows his own personal experiences to intrude into the realm of what should be a dispassionate, objective experience. Consider the following quote:

It's the kids. The way they are--you know? They don't listen. I've got a kid. When he was eight years old he ran away from a fight. I saw him. I was so ashamed, I told him right out, "I'm gonna make a man out of you or I'm gonna bust you up into little pieces trying." When he was fifteen, he hit me in the face. He's big, you know. I haven't seen him in three years. Rotten kid! You work your heart out...

Juror Three is thus shown to be prejudiced against the defendant because of his own bad experience with his child and the way in which he judges him. He is only able to see his own anger and disappointment when he thinks about the defendant.

By far a bigger force of prejudice however is the bigoted Juror Ten. He already has formed views of the defendant and sees no reason for him to waste any more time debating the boy's innocence. Note how he appeals to stereotypical views in the following quote:

We don't owe him a thing. He got a fair trial, didn't he? You know what that trial cost? He's lucky he got it. Look, we're grown-ups here. You're not going to tell us that we're supposed to believe him, knowing what he is. I've lived among 'em all my life. You can't believe a word they say. You know that?

Note the way that Juror Ten talks about "'em" and his supposed knowledge of this group of them and their natural deceit. Clearly this is a powerful example of the prejudice that threatens the somewhat fragile concept of justice that is established in this play.

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