In Twelve Angry Men, how does social context affect the jurors' views of the defendant?

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mrs-tolley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Twelve Angry Men, each of the jurors comes from a different social context, and each is affected differently.

The jurors whose social contexts really stand out in their views of the defendant are Jurors Four, Five, and Ten.

Juror Four sees slums as bad neighborhoods where everyone is a criminal. He says, "...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." He is prejudiced, and stereotypes all poor people, or people who come from slums, as potential criminals. The defendant is a teenager raised in a slum, so Juror Four assumes that since the defendant is from a slum, he must be guilty of killing his father.

Juror Five has a different background. He was actually raised in a poor neighborhood and he knows that not all poor people are criminals. He says, "I’ve lived in a slum all my life—" and "I used to play in a back yard that was filled with garbage. Maybe it still smells on me." Since we can assume that Juror Five is not a criminal (because people with criminal records cannot serve on a jury), these quotes show that he is living evidence that not all poor people grow up to be murderers, or "menaces to society," as Juror Four said.

Juror Eleven also grew up poor, and is an immigrant from Europe. He is a little more quiet than Jurors Four and Five, but he backs up Juror Five's opinion that not all poor people are criminals: "I can understand his sensitivity." From this quote, we can infer that, like Juror Five, Juror Eleven is from a poor background and he understands how Juror Five is offended by Juror Four's stereotyping.

Juror Ten is another juror who lets his social context influence him. He is described as:

An angry, bitter man. A man who antagonizes almost at sight. A bigot who places no values on any human life save his own. A man who has been nowhere and is going nowhere and knows it deep within him.

Juror Ten is prejudiced against the poor. In Act III, he rants about his stereotyped views of people in slums. He says, "Look, you know how those people lie," and, "They’re no good. There’s not one of ‘em who’s any good." This is clear stereotyping. He lumps all poor people together. Luckily for the defendant, by this time, the rest of the jurors have been convinced by the evidence that he is innocent, and they all turn away from the prejudiced Juror Ten.