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“Twelve Angry Men” – A Critical Analysis Essay

Introduction.

The play and subsequent movie “Twelve Angry Men” is an examination of the dynamics at play in a jury room in the 50’s in The United States. The action revolves around the opinions, perceptions, reason and logic of twelve diverse characters that are tasked with pronouncing the guilt or innocence of a young man accused of patricide. The extraordinary element is that their finding will determine his life or death. This play was made into a movie in 1957, produced by Henry Fonda who played the lead role and Reginald Rose who wrote the original screenplay. This essay will explore some of the elements of Critical thinking found within the context of this remarkable movie, and will show that rational reason and logic when used effectively can overcome the mostly ineffective rush to judgement that can be prevalent in a population.

Those elements will include: Argument Analysis
Most effective/least effective Critical thinker
Morality (persuasion, obedience)

Within the movie, it can be seen that persuasive argument is employed by one single juror to help sway the majority to believe his analysis of the evidence presented, He sets on a course to reach out to each juror and improve their thinking by reasonable and justified persuasion, Chaffee (2011) tells us that we can improve our thinking in an organised and systematic way by Carefully examining our thinking process and the thinking process of others By focusing our attention on various thinking approaches and strategies, we can learn to think more effectively Practicing our thinking abilities.

To improve our thinking, we actually have to think for ourselves, to explore and make sense of thinking situations by using our thinking abilities. Although it is important to read about thinking and learn how other people think, there is no substitute for actually doing it ourselves .(Chaffee 2011 p47) The movie has a simple premise, that a minority may affect a majority if rational thought and logic are used to construct arguments based on sound reasons and that when this is applied to lalse logic or fallacies that these can be changed.

Argument Analysis.

There were three points raised in the trial that Juror #8 believed required argument analysis, 1. The knife that was the murder weapon was unique and the boy was seen with it, although he said he had lost it. 2. The old man gave evidence that he heard the boy say “I’ll kill you” from his apartment below and that he saw the boy running from the down the stairs from the apartment after rising from his bedroom. 3. That the old lady saw the boy kill his father through her window, whilst a train was passing. Juror #8 analyses each of these points and makes credible arguments that the conclusion is flawed based on incorrect reasoning, by pointing out inconsistencies in the conclusions reached.

The other jurors are content to believe that their reasoning is solid, as they have used examples of deductive reasoning to reach their conclusion. Chaffee (2011) tells about deductive reasoning. The deductive argument is the one most commonly associated with the study of logic. Though it has a variety of valid forms, they all share one characteristic: If you accept the supporting reasons (also called premises) as true, then you must necessarily accept the conclusion as true. (Chaffee 2011 p432)

Juror #3 gives his reasons for reaching the conclusion that “It’s quite clear that the boy never went to the movies that night, returned home and killed his father with the knife as identified in Court” Until Juror #8 takes out a similar and knife and poses the question that it was ‘possible’ that another knife was used, Juror #7 calls it a million to one however Juror #8 persists in saying it was ‘possible’. He also uses this analysis method to cast aspersions on the second point and third points raised by systematically analysing each component part and as Proctor (1991) writes ‘by calling into question the integrity of the evidence, the testimonies of the witnesses, and the prejudices of the jurors’ he illustrates the flaws in the presented argument. Most effective/least effective Critical thinker.

During the course of the debate within the jury room Juror #8 summarises the evidence presented and the conclusions drawn by his fellow jurors, by asking questions like, what do we know about that? Or what does this show? He analyses the content, by breaking down the component parts and analysing each point through examination of what has been presented. Particularly in the case of the old man’s evidence, where he demonstrated the flaws by physically moving furniture around the room and presenting an alternative version of the provided evidence. He then synthesises the content by pulling together what he had summarized, and analysed and discusses it with the input of the other jurors. Finally he reaches an evaluation, and presents this to his peers on the jury as a reasonable version of events.

This process as described in (Troyka, Hesse 2006) of Sumarise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate, marks juror #8 out from the rest of the jury as the most effective critical thinker as he engages in this process throughout the movie. The antithesis to Juror #8 may be Juror #3 as portrayed by Lee J. Cobb who at the outset presents a biased view of young people who have no respect for their elders “In my day, I called my father. ‘Sir’ , who does that anymore”? We get the impression that he has made his mind up and has settled on a verdict of guilty to satisfy some personal feelings. In Stella Cottrell’s (2005) Barrier to Critical Thinking, she states that “Emotional content can add power to an argument, but it can also undermine an argument, especially if emotions seem to take the place of the reasoning and evidence that could convince you.”(Cottrell 2005 p11) Juror #3 has brought his emotional baggage into the room and seems to be transferring his emotions to the accused, and as such cannot arrive at a neutral logical conclusion.

He is not the only juror to erect barriers to Critical Thinking, We see examples in the various members of the jury of people who do not engage in the process of what Facicone (2011) comprehensively calls ‘purposeful, self regulatory judgement which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation and inference, as well as the explanation of evidential, conceptual and methodological, criteriological contextual considerations upon which judgement is based.” Juror #10 is an apparent racist who discriminates between people who live in slums and those who don’t, but is confronted with his flawed logic when juror #8 shows him that he says he doesn’t believe one of ‘them’ and believes another when it suits his logic. He is shown to be morally conflicted. The question of morals and ethics also run a current theme through the movie.

The sketching of the characters lead the audience to decide who is morally conflicted or not. Morals as Chaffee puts it are the “principles that govern our relationship with other people: the way we ought to behave, the rules and standards that we should employ in the choices we make” (Chaffee 2011 p371). Within the characters there are overt moral and ethical issues raised. The subject of the movie is essentially a moral or ethical question, it asks us the audience, what would you do? Asking us to invoke our values and assumptions, and find the truth amongst the evidence presented. The movie gives us various characters of differing levels in society all bound together for one purpose, to find the truth in the evidence given which may result in a death sentence for the accused.

The varying personalities and degrees of moral fortitude is evident from their reactions. One Juror talks about how ‘I have three garages going to pot, while you’re talking, so let’s get down and get outta here’, another juror is preoccupied with tickets to a baseball game, and the fear he will miss it should the deliberation drag on. Another ethical issue is the use of persuasion by juror #8 who seems intent on turning the jury to find with him, he uses methods that may be ethically unsound to sway other easily pliable members of the jury his way to gain momentum to use against his most fervent foes on the panel. He along with Juror #3 vie for the rest of the juror’s votes, as Adler Rosenfeld and Proctor state in Interplay “Both use conformity pressure as a persuasive tool; both dole out rewards to jurors who help them and punishments to those who don’t” (2009)

Conclusion.

Twelve angry men is a moral tale, it begs us as an audience to see the dilemma when a man’s life is at stake and the decision makers are ordinary men, with their personal values, morals , assumptions and baggage. The burden of proof is the most difficult in law it is beyond a reasonable doubt, and Juror #8 who through reason and logic, who sees through the fallacies and falsehoods created by those in the room, who sows the seeds of doubt through the analysis and synthesis of the evidence provided, leads the group to a single conclusion. We as an audience are also left with the narrative as was unfolded, and it is down to us whether we believe that the truth was uncovered or whether it was just a matter of objective persuasion and therefore whether the ends justify the means.

Twelve Angry Men – References;

Adler R, Rosenfeld L. & Proctor R. (2009) Interplay (10th ed) Interpersonal Communication [Online] Available from: http://www.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195309928/instructorresources/filmstorage/angrymen/ [Accessed 24 May 2013]

Chaffee J. (2011) Thinking Critically (10th Ed.) Boston Wadsworth Cottrell, S. (2005). Critical thinking skills: Developing effective analysis and argument. NY: Palgrave McMillan. Pp 10-12
Facicone P. Critical Thinking , What it is and why it counts, [Online] Available from: http://www.student.uwa.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1922502/Critical-Thinking-What-it-is-and-why-it-counts.pdf. [Accessed 31 May 2013]

Proctor R (1991) Do the ends justify the means, Thinking critically about “Twelve Angry Men”. [Online] Available from: http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED336784&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED336784 [Accessed 5 May 2013] Troyka LQ & Hesse D (2006) Critical Thinking Reading and Writing. [Online] Available from: http://wps.pearsoncustom.com/pcp_troyka_qacompact_1_1894/52/13437/3440064.cw/index.html [Accessed 12 April 2013]


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