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Twelve Angry Men

by Valkyria

In the play, Twelve Angry Men, after the murder trial of an eighteen year old, twelve jurors must deliberate and reach an unanimous decision. Only one man votes not guilty, due to the sympathy he feels toward the boy, much to the displeasure of his fellow jurors. Personal prejudices and past experiences arise, leaving the one question weighing the entire jury: Is there reasonable doubt?

Justice is highlighted throughout the play, as each juror wants it served. But within justice itself, is the theme of prejudice vs. sympathy. Each person has his or her own idea of what justice is. There is no official definition everybody can agree on. People have their biases, emotions, and logic. Many do agree that logic is key on figuring out if someone is guilty or innocent, yet justice cannot just rely on that.

Emotion and bias plays a significant role in decision-making. Emotions are created through memories, thoughts, and beliefs. This stimulates how we feel, and behave. For example, if you’re feeling happy, you might decide to slide down the hill on a sleigh. But if you had broken your leg as a child, you might pass on it. No matter the logical reasoning either way, our decisions are driven by our emotional state. Bias works differently. If someone is biased, he or she is close-minded. They go with a favored object, and stick with it, very rarely acknowledging the other side. For instance, a person’s best friend is running for president, that person will want to vote for their friend because of loyalty.

Prejudice is very different from bias. People believe that the words mean similar definitions, when in fact they just have different motives. Bias is either favorable or unfavorable. Prejudice is an opinion not based on reasoning or actual experience. It is a negative feeling towards an individual or group. There are many types of prejudice: racism, sexism, homophoebia, etc. The thing that ties both of them together is the emotion. Emotion is what gave Juror Eight the advantage when arguing against the other jurors. He plays off their own prejudice and bias to create empathy.

What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? Sympathy is the act of feeling bad for someone. If you see a little boy crying, you sympathize with him, because you feel bad. You do not know what he is crying about. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. If the boy is crying because his dog ran away, you will empathize with him because your own dog ran away when you were younger.

The most powerful way to win an argument is by asking questions. It can make people see the flaws in their logic. Not only does questioning something help the group bond, but it gets people to think and share opinions more. When a group is asked a question, each member is given the chance to share their own answer. Then they play off of each other, agreeing and disagreeing with each others’ statements. But biases and prejudice become apparent. Each person has his/her own opinion; they want to let the others know. And arguments sprout from those opinions, because someone else may think differently. Some arguments are emotionally controlled, but when they think deeply within themself, they may uncover the logic that they were missing.

Juror Eight is the only one to vote not guilty when they first started deliberating the case. He doesn’t know if the boy really did commit the murder or not, but he feels sympathetic towards him. “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.” (pg. 15) Juror Eight argues against the case, questioning the truth behind the evidence. He tears the evidence apart, piece by piece. He is logical, objective, yet empathetic.

The audience does not know the exact motivation he has when defending the boy; his past is a mystery. Perhaps that was the idea Reginald Rose(the author) had in mind. Perhaps Rose wanted Juror Eight to be anonymous because he would be the character everyone would connect with. Of course, one might relate and connect with another juror, but Juror Eight is the character everyone wants to be. He wants justice rightly done. Every human on Earth wants justice.

As the play continues, Juror Eight tries to reason with his peers. He asks them questions, playing off of their own prejudice and bias to win them over. When discussing the physical position a man would have to be in to stab another, Eight asks the others if the boy is smart or dumb. The boy is six inches shorter than his father. It would be very awkward to stab the father with a switch-knife at a downward angle. Juror Five points this out, saying that angle is the incorrect way to stab someone with a switch-knife. “Anyone who’s ever used a switch-knife would never have stabbed downward. You don’t handle a switch-knife that way. You use it underhanded.”(pg. 56)

Throughout the play, Juror Eight stays calm, logical, and objective. He uses the other jurors’ biases against them to help them see the truth. A good example of this is near the end, when discussing the woman who swore she saw the killing take place. On Page 61, Juror Two is polishing his glasses when he asks what time it is. Juror Eight questions this, and he is excited to learn Two cannot see clearly without his glasses. Then Eight asks about the woman who testified, and the jurors remembered she wore very strong bifocals:

“Eight: I think it’s logical to say that she was not wearing her glasses in bed, and I don’t think she’d put them on to glance casually out the window… She testified that the murder took place the instant she looked out, and that the lights went out a split second later. She couldn’t have had time to put on her glasses then. Now perhaps this woman honestly thought she saw the boy kill his father. [Rises.] I say that she only saw a blur.”(pg. 61-62)

When Juror Two told him that he puts his glasses on to look at the time in the middle of the night, Eight knew that would be an advantage in disproving the woman’s testimony.

In the very beginning, when the jury decides to take their initial vote, Juror Eight is the only one to vote not guilty. He does not know, and he wants to talk about it first. Juror Three tells Eight that her never saw a guiltier man, but Eight responds, saying, “What does a guilty man look like? He is not guilty until we say he is guilty. Are we to vote on his face?”(pg. 14)

At the end of Act Two, Juror Three becomes very angry, yelling that the boy is guilty, and he needs to die. Eight stays very calm during this aggression, offering his pity to the man:

“ Eight [shaking his head sadly]: I’m sorry for you.

Three [shouting]: Don’t start with me!

Eight: What it must feel like to want to pull the switch!

Three: Shut up!

Eight: You’re a sadist…

Three [louder]: Shut up!

Eight [his voice strong]: You want to see this boy die because you personally want it - not because of the facts. {Spits out words.} You are a beast. You disgust me.” (pg. 43)

To gain respect, a person must be something that other people can admire and look up to. By the time this scene plays, Juror Eight has a couple of supporters behind him, because he acts so calm and rational in comparison to Three’s spite. But Eight acts the opposite in this scene. Maybe he says these words because he knows Three’s reaction would appall his peers. Eight knew this would turn some, if not all the jurors, because Three lunged toward him, shouting, “I’ll kill him!” and he had to be held back. But he didn’t mean he would really kill Eight. And that action defended the boy.

Juror Three is the exact opposite of Juror Eight, which is why they clash so often. He represents the corrupt side of justice. He sees the case as it is shown to him, and he turns away from anyone else’s opinions unless they agree with his own. Three is angry, emotional, and prejudiced. Whatever logic he knows is what the case has presented to him. And he is very biased against the kid, believing that the boy killed his father; he does not want to think otherwise. The reason for this being he had a falling out with his son three years ago:

“Three: You’re right. It’s the kids. The way they are- you know? They don’t listen. [bitterly.]

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! I hate tough kids! You work your heart out… [Pauses.] All right. Let’s get on with it… [Gets up and goes to window, very embarrassed.]”(pg. 21)

The prejudice he feels towards the defendant stems from the bad experience he had with his son.

In the beginning, Juror Three is convinced the boy is guilty. He doesn’t say whether it was easy for him to vote guilty as it was for Juror Seven and Juror Four. But it is very clear that he does not feel sympathetic, as he says, “[and] then they lock that kid up forever and that’s okay by me.”(pg. 11)

At the start of Act Two, after the second juror votes not guilty in a secret ballot, Three angrily accuses Five of voting innocent. He turns on him, thinking he changed his vote because “this-- [Nods toward Eight]--slick preacher starts to tear your heart out with stories about a poor little kid who just couldn’t help becoming a murderer...If that isn’t the most sickening---[Five edges away in his chair.] (pg. 27)

Three’s words prompt the foreman and Juror Four to stop him from commenting even further. Four tries to pacify him, agreeing the defendant is guilty, but the jurors need to be fair. Unfortunately, that angers Three:

Three: Hold it? Be fair? That’s just what I’m saying. We’re trying to put a guilty man into the chair where he belongs--and all of a sudden we’re paying attention to fairytales.”(pg. 27.)

On page 42, Eight reenacts the old man getting up from his bed and going to his door to see the suspect run downstairs. The time he estimated was fifteen seconds, when it was actually thirty-nine seconds. Juror Three, infuriated by this, doesn’t want to believe this, saying, this batch of dishonesty “takes the cake:”

“THREE: You come in here with your heart bleeding all over the floor about slum kids and injustice and you make up these wild stories, and you’ve got some soft-hearted old ladies listening to you. Well, I’m not. I’m getting real sick of you. {To All.} What’s the matter with you people? This kid is guilty! He’s got to burn! We’re letting him slip through our fingers.

EIGHT: Our fingers. Are you his executioner?

THREE: I’m one of ‘em!

EIGHT: Perhaps you’d like to pull the switch.

THREE: [shouting]. For this kid? You bet I’d like to pull the switch!”(pg. 42)

With these quotes, the audience sees Juror Three in his true colors, a man swept by the prejudice of this boy only because he tried to “make a man” out of his son, and his son hated him for it.

If we were to take these twelve men and shift them into one man, their personalities would form the brain of the man. The two most prominent figures as an example is, of course, Juror Eight and Juror Three. Juror Eight represents the objective side of the brain, and Juror Three represents the emotional side of his brain.

Juror Eight remains objective and empathetic in the play, however he does not say whether he thinks the boy is innocent. He has reasonable doubt, and he just wants to talk things out. Eight is confused by the evidence because it doesn’t logically add up. He does want to talk the trial out, but no one knows the true reason. We know much more about Juror Three. He and his son had a falling out three years ago, and his son hit him in the face. As a result, Three holds a deep detest for kids, and it shows

very much when arguing against the boy. The prejudice he has ties in with the theme, while Eight represents empathy. Juror Three held so much anger toward his son, that when the boy was accused guilty of murdering his father, Three was ready to send him to the electric chair.

Prejudice vs. sympathy is a theme very prominent in Twelve Angry Men, as it affects every character in the play. In the court of law, a person must judge with an open mind. While bias and prejudice shows up when discussing the verdict, the people must remain objective. They must realize both sides of the story, and that is what Juror Eight did. He reminded the other jurors about the boy’s lifestyle. He reminded them that people say they’ll kill each other everyday, but they do not mean it. He reminded them that the woman wore glasses, and the old man was so crippled, there is no way he can walk to the door to see the boy run by, or if it was the boy at all. The other jurors were so blind in their biases and prejudices, they did not notice the real evidence was right there.

Prejudice vs. sympathy, not only ties in with the play, but it ties in with reality, and the way people work with justice. 

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Sun Feb 23, 2020 8:27 pm
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IcyFlame wrote a review...

I've always really enjoyed this play. I think it's very well done, with a framework that has been built upon and used for many other things (TV shows, books, movies etc.)

I like the points you make in this essay, but they all seem to be made right at the beginning of the piece, before you've included any of the evidence. Then, you seem to move on just to tell the story of the play.

Personally, I feel this would work better if you could integrate the quotes more within the essay and use them to illustrate your points, rather than just putting them all in the latter half. We were always taught:
which is very simplistic, but is I think something that could apply here.

Hope this is helpful!


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Fri Jan 31, 2020 3:58 pm
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Theva wrote a review...

I really like your story. Your imagination drives me into the new world.
It holds lots of emotions. Your story Visualize everything in front of me. I really appreciate your imagination level. I Really enjoy your short story.

It is realistic. No errors and no issues in your Story. Your short story Flashed like camera clicks. And splashed naturality here and there.

Vivid imagination......
I like very much about your presentation of the short story......
No Mistakes............
In short, awesome...

If I seem to wander, if I seem to stray, remember that true stories seldom take the straightest way.
— Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind