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Twelve Angry Men

by Reginald Rose
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Is Twelve Angry Men all about how power can be misused? 

The power of an individual can be used to prevent misuse of power by the majority.

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If anything, Twelve Angry Men is more about the power of an individual to turn the tide. Even without Juror 8, however, it would be unfair to say the rest of the jury is misusing their power. With the exception of a few jurors who are clearly biased, the others are all honestly convinced that the boy is guilty of murder.

After all, on quick review, the evidence seems overwhelming. There is even an eyewitness. Is it misuse of power that the rest of the jury wasn't as attentive as Juror 8? It would be an impossible requirement to demand that all jurors would completely understand the meaning of the evidence. That is the desired outcome, the ideal proceeding. In real life, that is presumably rarely the case. The people who sit on juries are human. If they don't have the knowledge to see through a clever trick or a masterful lie, there is nothing to be done. That is the risk of that sort of a judicial system.

The question of misuse of power comes from the jurors' reluctance to discuss the case, but even there the same argument rises. With the eyewitness, with the murder weapon—to most of them, the case seems very clear-cut. The whole drama takes place only because Juror 8 uses his power to delay the verdict. Since the judgment needs to be unanimous, an individual has a great deal of power. Juror 8 uses it to make sure they properly consider all of the "obviously damning" evidence.

Certainly, the jurors who are clearly voting "guilty" because of their prejudice or personal reasons misuse their power. They try bullying, rushing, insulting, and other methods to get their way. The drama, though, puts emphasis on those who try to deliberate, and most of the jurors are shown to eventually consider what they previously thought was an open-and-shut case.

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In Twelve Angry Men, the jury has the power of life and death in its hands. If it finds the young defendant guilty, then he's liable to wind up going to the electric chair. And with power comes responsibility; the members of the jury have got to be absolutely sure that the defendant is guilty before they issue their verdict. Initially, however, most of the jurors don't appear to be taking their responsibilities all that seriously. They haven't given much consideration to the evidence presented to them in court; instead, they've mainly gone with their gut instincts, which are determined to a large extent by prejudice.

But power can be misused in all sorts of ways. Juror number 7, for example, makes the right decision—to acquit the defendant—but for the wrong reasons. (He wants to get the whole thing over with so he can catch a ball game). And Juror number 3 stubbornly opts for a conviction right up until the end as he feels the need to regain some of the power he's lost due to the fractious relationship with his son.

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Certainly, the misuse and abuse of power is a part of the narrative. Juror Three is a "sadist" and a bullying figure who seeks to dominate others.  His own misplaced feelings about the fall out with his son helps to move him into a position where he misuses power. The Foreman is described as "a small, petty man who is impressed with the authority he has."  This enhances the idea of the potential for abuse of power.  Even Juror Seven, who wishes to dispense with the process so that he can get back to his life, can be seen as an example of abusing power.  Initially, Juror Seven does not take his civic duty seriously, taking it for granted and abusing his power.

Yet, this is not where Rose's drama places its emphasis.  The process of deliberation that is spearheaded by Juror Eight represents how abuses of power can be calibrated and channeled into proper displays.  Juror Eight seeks to make right that which might be wrong.  His desire for justice is contagious, something that encourages the other jurors to reflect and think about their role in the process of determining the guilt of another human being.  Rose makes it clear that while there are people who abuse their power, there can be individuals who redeem it.  For every Juror Three, there can be a Juror Eight.  The drama is not completely driven by the abuses of power.  It is driven by the fact that individuals who abuse their power can be counteracted by those who seek to do right by it. Power is shown to be fluid and dynamic, reflective of a spirit within individuals that seeks to make right that which is set wrong.

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