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Twelve Angry Men

by Reginald Rose

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Discussion Topic

Analysis of the central idea in Twelve Angry Men and the role of a significant character in its development

Summary:

The central idea in Twelve Angry Men is the importance of justice and the power of reasonable doubt in the judicial process. Juror 8 plays a significant role in developing this theme by challenging the other jurors' prejudices and assumptions, advocating for a thorough examination of the evidence, and ultimately swaying the jury towards a fair and just verdict.

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What is the main idea of Act 2 in Twelve Angry Men?

Reginald Rose’s play Twelve Angry Men recounts the deliberations among the jurors of a homicide trial. The twelve men who comprise the jury must deliver a unanimous decision to the judge. We learn in the first act that eleven of the twelve jury members believe the boy on trial to be guilty and want to deliver their verdict quickly; only Juror Eight questions the validity of some of the evidence and wants to discuss the case more before deciding. The majority of the jurors recount the strongest pieces of evidence in an attempt to bring Juror Eight to their side, though in doing so, they begin to create doubts in each other’s minds. The act concludes with Juror Eight abstaining from another vote, with the promise that he will agree to vote guilty if there is still a unanimous decision.

Act Two begins immediately after the vote, where it is discovered that another jury member has switched his vote to “not guilty.” This angers several of the jurors, particularly Juror Three; he makes a point to remind the jurors that a witness clearly heard the defendant yell “I’m going to kill you” at his father before the father died and that in the fifteen seconds that followed, the witness saw the boy running down the stairs. Much of the action in this act is in the jurors’ recreation of these events immediately surrounding the father’s death; by using the apartment blueprints provided in the trial, Juror Eight is able to measure out the exact dimensions of the crime scene and time how long it should have reasonably taken the defendant to flee the scene. Juror Eight’s timing of the scene is thirty-nine seconds, and several jurors marvel at the discrepancy of the times. Jurors Three and Eight argue over Eight’s motives for defending the boy; in the heated exchange that follows, Three lunges at Eight and screams that “[Three will] kill him,” ironically echoing what he considers the most condemning piece of evidence against the defendant.

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How do the words and actions of one significant character from Twelve Angry Men develop the central idea of the play?

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose tells the story of a jury that deliberates the verdict of a young defendant. It shows how the jurors change their votes as they discuss the case. A central theme is that one person can help facilitate justice by remaining objective and being the catalyst for achieving the truth.

Juror Number 8 is a pivotal character in the story. With the first vote, the jurors realize that all but one—Juror 8—agree that the defendant is guilty. However, rather than yield to the pressure of the other jurors, Number 8 insists that they review and discuss the case before they vote again. Thus, despite resistance from the others, Juror 8 holds his ground.

His words and actions help make the other jurors rethink their original vote and come to view the evidence in a whole new light. He facilitates an understanding of the significance of several of the factors of the case. He is described as:

A quiet, thoughtful, gentle man. A man who sees all sides of every question and constantly seeks the truth. A man of strength tempered with compassion. Above all, he is a man who wants justice to be done and will fight to see that it is.

Number 8 calmly reviews the evidence. He is able to persuade the jurors and ultimately helps to achieve consensus. For instance, the defendant comes from a low-income background and grew up in difficult conditions. Juror 8 takes this into account when he says, "You know, living in a slum, his mother dead since he was nine. That's not a very good head start."

However, Juror 10 replies:

I've lived among 'em all my life. You can't believe a word they say. You know that.

In response, Juror 9 “very slowly” says to Juror 10:

I don't know that. What a terrible thing for a man to believe! Since when is dishonesty a group characteristic? You have no monopoly on the truth…What this man says is very dangerous.

In this case too, Juror 8 exerts a calming influence, helping to avert a fight among the jurors. He:

puts his hand on No. 9's arm and stops him. Somehow his touch and his gentle expression calm the old man. He draws a deep breath and relaxes.

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