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.
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.