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Reginald Rose’s script for Twelve Angry Men contains examples of biases and underlying psychological factors that influence the opinions of individual jurors beyond the obvious prejudices associated with race – specifically, the Hispanic heritage of the young defendant. Rose was inspired to write Twelve Angry Men from his own experiences on a jury, and it is probable that he witnessed some of these influences at work for himself.
One of the most obvious biases evident among some of the jurors is age-based. Juror 3, in particular, is driven by what at first appears as an entirely irrational rage against the defendant’s relative youth. One of the first indications of this juror’s prejudice regarding age occurs almost immediately. The film takes place during summer and the courthouse is hot. The opening dialogue revolves around the heat. Responding to another juror’s exclamation regarding the heat, Juror 3 remarks, “I’ll bet you aren’t sweating like that kid who was tried.” This reference to the defendant’s age is the first warning that Juror 3 is focused on the issue of youth and what he perceives as a connection between age and crime. More importantly, however, is what is revealed about Juror 3 as the film progresses and it becomes apparent that his obsession with the defendant’s youth has its seeds in his own dysfunctional relationship with his son. A more important early indication of this bias on the part of Juror 3 is his reference to what he views as a societal problem involving the disintegration of civility, especially where teenagers and young adults are concerned:
“Juror 3: It’s these kids – the way they are nowadays. When I was a kid I used to call my father, ‘Sir.’ That’s right. ‘Sir.’ You ever hear a kid call his father that anymore?”
He then proceeds to relate a story about his efforts to toughen up his son, who ran away from a fight when he was nine:
“I was so embarrassed I almost threw up. I said, ‘I’m gonna make a man outta you if I have to break you in two tryin.’ And I made a man out of him. When he was sixteen we had a fight. . .Haven’t seen him for two years. Kids . . . work your heart out . . .”
In one of the film’s climactic exchanges, Juror 8, the initial hold-out against a “guilty” verdict, argues with Juror 3, who angrily throws down onto the table a notebook on which is displayed a photograph of him and his son: This display of anger is followed by his tirade that reveals the source of his anger:
“Juror 3: You lousy bunch of bleedin’ ‘earts. . .You’re not goin’ to intimidate me—I’m entitled to my opinion!
[He sees the picture of his son on the table]
Juror 3: Rotten kids, you work your life out . . .!
[He grabs the picture and tears it to pieces. He suddenly realizes what he’s doing and breaks down]”
Juror 3 is biased against the defendant because the defendant is probably about the same age as his son, with whom he has an estranged relationship.
Another example of bias in Twelve Angry Men involves socioeconomic class, which can go hand-in-hand with racial bias, and in this case probably does, but can also be its own category of prejudice. Another “angry” exchange during the jury’s deliberations grows out of the assumption on the part of some of the jurors that anyone from a ghetto or slum is a prime candidate for a life of crime:
“Juror 4: We’re missing the point here. This boy—let’s say he’s a product of a filthy neighborhood and a broken home. We can’t help that. We’re not here to go into the reasons why slums are breeding grounds for criminals. They are. I know it. So do you. The children who come out of slum backgrounds are potential menaces to society.
Juror 10: You said it there. I don’t want any part of them, believe me.
(There is a dead silence for a moment, and then 5 speaks haltingly.)
Juror 5: I’ve lived in a slum all my life—
Juror 10: Oh, now wait a second!
Juror 5: I used to play in a back yard that was filled with garbage. Maybe it still smells on me.
Foreman; Now let’s be reasonable. There’s nothing personal—(FIVE stands up.)
Juror 5: There is something personal!”
Juror 5, an eminently decent individual, resents the implication that there exists a direct correlation between socioeconomic status and criminal activity. In other words, he objects to the class biases of the other jurors.
These are two prime examples of how biases and psychological factors influenced the initial positions of jurors in Twelve Angry Men. Reginald Rose clearly intended to demonstrate the range of such influences that can be present in the trial of a defendant from a particular socioeconomic background who is also of an age and ethnicity too-commonly associated with disobedience.
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