abstract illustration of twelve angry looking human faces

Twelve Angry Men

by Reginald Rose

Start Free Trial

Who is the defendant in the trial in Twelve Angry Men?

Quick answer:

The defendant in the trial in Twelve Angry Men is a nineteen-year-old man who has been accused of murdering his father. He is a young man who has had a difficult life, having lost his mother at a young age and grown up in a slum.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The defendant in Reginald Rose’s jury-room drama Twelve Angry Men doesn’t appear in the original 1954 teleplay or in the 1955 Broadway stage version. The playwright also doesn’t give the defendant a name. Many of the jurors repeatedly refer to the defendant as a “kid,” and he’s first described as having different ages in different adaptations.

There are a few references in the play to the defendant’s troubled home life and criminal background, but the playwright gives no other description of the defendant. The only descriptions of the defendant in the teleplay, Broadway, and film versions of Twelve Angry Men rely on the Jurors’ class biases and their racial, cultural, and ethnic prejudices:

Juror #3. I never saw a guiltier man in my life. You sat right in court and heard the same thing I did. The man's a dangerous killer. You could see it.

Juror #10. Look, we're all grownups 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.

Juror #7. Look at the kid's record. At fifteen he was in reform school. He stole a car. He's been arrested for mugging. He was picked up for knife-fighting. I think they said he stabbed somebody in the arm.

Juror #10. How can you believe this kid is innocent? Look, you know how those people lie. l don't have to tell you. They don't know what the truth is. And lemme tell you, they—don't need any real big reason to kill someone either. You know, they get drunk, and bang, someone's lying in the gutter. Nobody's blaming them. That's how they are. You know what I mean?

Juror #8 is the only juror who expresses any compassion for “the kid,” and at the same time provides some insight into the defendant’s background:

Juror #8. Look-this boy's been kicked around all his life. You know- living in a slum-his mother dead since he was nine. That's not a very good head start. He's a tough, angry kid. You know why slum kids get that way? Because we knock 'em over the head once a day, every day. I think maybe we owe him a few words.

Essentially, the description of the defendant is what the audience members see in their own mind, which might reveal their own biases and prejudices and their personal frame of reference.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The defendant in Reginald Rose’s compelling play is a young man who is alleged to have killed his father by stabbing him with a knife. We learn early on that the defendant is very young, when Juror Three refers to him as “that kid who was tried.” We learn later, while the members of the Jury are deliberating on whether or not he is guilty, that he is nineteen years old. He is a young man who has had a tough life, having grown up in a slum and lost his mother when he was just nine years old.

It is suggested that the defendant is from a different racial and sociocultural background than the jurors, with Juror Ten suggesting that the jury look at “the kind of people they are,” implying a sense of difference or othering. Juror Ten’s prejudice toward the defendant's background is made clear through his repeated use of the term “they,” remarking that “they let the kids run wild,” and “you can’t believe a word they say.”

Ultimately, the question of whether or not the defendant is a guilty man or an innocent man is left up to the reader (or watcher) to decide. Thanks to the existence of reasonable doubt, the jury finds the defendant innocent, but since the story is not told from the defendant’s perspective, an element of mystery remains.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Twelve Angry Men, the defendant is a nineteen-year-old Hispanic youth from the slums who is charged with first degree murder of his father.

The jury is entirely composed of white men. Most of the jury is lower-middle to middle class men. Some are older, and they bring their individual biases and prejudices to the table. In fact, with the initial vote, only one juror votes "Not Guilty." This vote is made simply because Juror No. 8 feels that the case warrants discussion since the verdict will be so serious:

There were eleven votes for guilty. It's not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.

As the men discuss the case, they realize that some of the testimony given was not true. And the so-called weapon is a knife that can easily be for sale in a few stores. Juror 8 proves this because he buys one easily at a local store.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The defendant in this trial is a young man who has been accused of stabbing his father during a family argument. The young boy is considered to be lower class status by most of the jurors and is referred to in very unflattering and stereotypical language throughout the deliberation. 

The father has died as a result of the stabbing.  The case is left up to twelve men from very different backgrounds and with their own agendas to decide his guilt or innocence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The defendant is described by jurors as "a nineteen year old boy" who stabs his own father in the torso. Great deliberation takes place over his guilt or innocence, and in the end, it is decided that a hung jury will result. Stereotyping and generalizing language is used by the jurors to indicate that they see the defendant, at first, as someone of a "lower" status at this point in history. Those who believe the defendant is guilty keep referring to "they" and "them," as if the boy's race or socioeconomic status is a factor in their decision making.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial