What lessons apply to Reginald Rose's play Twelve Angry Men?
Reginald Rose was inspired to write his play Twelve Angry Men following his experience serving on a jury. It was that experience that revealed to him the drama inherent in the deliberative process involved in twelve individuals of disparate backgrounds and levels of education contemplating the fate of a destitute defendant. In a city as ethnically and economically diverse as New York, Rose had plenty of material with which to work. When one analyzes the play that resulted from his experience as a juror, one can easily conclude that the main lesson to be drawn from Twelve Angry Men is the importance of guarding against the propensity to rush to judgement. 'Judgement,' after all, is the entire point of the exercise, and the prejudices and conflicts some of the jurors in Rose's play bring to their role as jurors in a criminal trial could have, one can observe, led to a potential miscarriage of justice. But for Juror #8's exceedingly rational, thoughtful perspective, the young defendant, an ethnic minority (Hispanic) 19-year-old from the tenements, would be convicted and sent to prison without the kind of fact-based, deliberative process that is supposed to characterize the jury system. The racial prejudices of Juror #10 ("You can't believe a word they [Hispanics] say. You know that.") and the deep emotional scars within Juror #3 would have been sufficient to ensure just such a miscarriage of justice had Juror #8 not been committed to the proper execution of his responsibility as a juror.
Rose's play is a textbook examination of the precarious nature of the criminal justice system. In addition to the aforementioned jurors who harbored racial and other prejudices, Rose's jury includes a one (Juror #7) who is more interested in concluding the case in a timely manner so that he can attend the theater that evening ("This better be fast. I've got tickets to the [insert title of any current Broadway hit]." Juror #2 is sufficiently malleable to be an instrument of his more strong-willed fellow jurors who happen to be the more prejudicial and forceful of the group. In short, the flaws inherent in the jury system are laid bare. Only Juror #8 stands between this group of seriously flawed individuals and the fate of the defendant. It is this one juror who stands up to the crowd to see that justice is done. Only Juror #8 and, to a slightly lesser extent, Juror #11, a refugee from Europe who apparently has been witness to the injustices prevalent in nondemocratic societies, does not rush to judgement, and that is the main lesson of Twelve Angry Men.