The Twelve Jurors
At the beginning of the play, eleven out of the twelve jurors believe the accused is guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. When the vote is being counted ‘seven or eight hands go up immediately, and several others go up more slowly’ as written in the stage directions. Rose uses this hesitation as a visual representation of doubt contradicting their vote of ‘guilty’. Therefore, this is not a truthful vote by all and is the first glimpse of a crack in the American judicial system. After the first vote eleven to one in favour of guilty, the eighth juror is left standing alone. Once the jury gets talking about the case, the evidence proving the accused guilty is put into question. For example, the murder weapon is proven to be not as unique as the jurors assumed it to be.
When the eighth juror sticks a matching knife into the table, the certainty of the jurors quickly drains away. Furthermore, the angle of the stab wound raises some questions as well. As the murder weapon is a switchblade knife, it can be linked to the impoverished community and symbolise the unfortunate circumstances that the sixteen-year-old boy had been living in. The fifth juror who grew up in similar circumstances was able to sympathise with the accused and identify how to use the knife correctly, which contradicted the angle in which the wound had stuck the father. Another example of questionable evidence is the two eyewitnesses: the old man and woman across the tracks. The eighth juror proves both statements false by comparing their stories and putting their timelines together. This also questions the certainty of the jury’s mind and compels more jurors to change their vote to ‘not guilty’. The jury is never able to establish whether or not the defendant is innocent; however, the unreliability of the evidence is enough to convict the defendant ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. After hours of deliberation, the last vote is counted, twelve to zero in favour of not guilty.
American Democratic Society
The process of deliberation and coming to a verdict is a reflection and core practice of American democratic society in the 1960s and today’s society. Rose uses this situation to reflect that as a group and as individuals, these men can discuss this case and come to a conclusion. However, throughout the process, each juror has their differences which contradict each other and cause confrontation. Rose effectively represents these characters through the text exposing their similarities and differences. The characters are a combination of professions, classes, ages, and immigrant status. In the jury room, there is a single window in which the jurors disagree on whether or not it should be open or closed. This disagreement foreshadows and symbolises the deep divides between the jurors that will prevent them from agreeing throughout most of the play.
The eighth juror is the first to feel sympathy for the boy on trial because of his unsteady upbringing, while the fifth and eleventh juror can empathise with the circumstances in which he lives. However, for the tenth juror, he holds a grudge against the lower class and believes the worst of them. Late in the play, the window is linked to a more meaningful version of standing one’s ground, as the jurors move to look out the window during Ten’s prejudiced rant. The act of moving to the window is equated with an active refusal to listen to and participate in Ten’s prejudice. The window symbolises a silent yet powerful and an opinionated act of standing one’s ground. The eleventh juror, who is an immigrant, and ninth juror, who is an elderly man, have trust in the American justice system and want to ensure a fair trial highlighting the importance of democracy in the play.
As the story advances and the jurors’ ethics and backgrounds are exposed and social differences become personal arguments and attacks. At the beginning of the play, the jurors make moral judgments about each other on appearance and first impressions. Their perspective of certainty about the truth drives them to be unkind to each other and make harsh assumptions about the other jurors. This play also illustrates how these men targeted each other’s identities as Americans with ambivalent feelings about the jury process and their roles as American citizens in society. Throughout the play, the jurors feel more comfortable in admitting their doubt and that they have become uncertain that the accused is guilty. In reaction, they begin to see each other not as categories or types, instead, as individual people. After all the evidence supporting the guilty is proven unreliable, the jurors are forced to face the doubts that they have hidden behind their own biases, prejudices, and irrationalities and come to the verdict of ‘not guilty’.
Fair Judicial System
The play 12 Angry Men is a timeless piece of work that proves the power of certainty and doubt and puts the characters in a pressure-filled situation to portray the universal conflicts and currents that drive American society. Furthermore, the narrative also indicates the importance of democracy and how that has created a fair judicial system that is still in place today. Through its many forms, including teleplay, play and movie, 12 Angry Men is an award-winning narrative that proves the prominence of justice, freedom, and citizens’ responsibility in society in the past 65 years.