Twelve Angry Men – American Legal Justice System
The story I chose was 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose written in 1957. Twelve men were picked to sit on a jury for a murder trial. The accused was an 18-year-old boy.
He was on trial for murdering his father. If he is convicted, he’ll receive a death sentence. This sets the tone for the Play. Bothered by the heat making the room uncomfortable, the jurors had to cast a preliminary vote which came out to eleven guilty and one not guilty. Juror Eight was the only person to vot not guilty and demanded that they discussed the case further. Juror Eight began to question the prosecution’s arguments. The knife was originally was thought to be a unique knife and narrowed it down to the accused. He argued that the knife was a common knife and that anyone could’ve had that style knife and killed his father. This was explained by the following text in the play:
(EIGHT reaches casually into his pocket and withdraws an object. No one notices this. He stands up quietly.)
FOUR. Aren’t you trying to make us accept a pretty incredible coincidence?
EIGHT. I’m not trying to make anyone accept it. I’m just saying it’s possible.
THREE (shouting). And I’m saying it’s not possible.
(EIGHT swiftly flicks open the blade of the switch-knife and quickly jams it into the table next to the first one. They are exactly alike. There are several gasps and everyone stares at the knife. There is a long silence.)
THREE (slowly, amazed). What are you trying to do?
TEN (loud). Yeah, what is this? Who do you think you are?
FIVE. Look at it! It’s the same knife! (Rose)
He also distinguished that the downstairs neighbor that witnessed the murder was not likely to have seen what they said they saw. Slowly, through juror 8’s reasoning, the other jurors started changing their votes. It seemed like it was going to be a hung jury, but Juror Eight’s arguments was successful in changing the other juror’s minds. The last one to hold out, Juror Three, finally changed his vote to not guilty at the end. The boy was acquitted of all charges.
Twelve Angry Men was a glimpse of the American legal justice system during the era that if was filmed. Screenwriter Reginald Rose saw American society as crumbling amongst itself, and 12 Angry Men stands as a warning to Americans: remember your responsibilities, stay unified, and be understanding with one another, or the nation will fall. By the end, the film is not about whether or not the accused man was guilty or innocent — it’s about whether or not these 12 diverse men with individual prejudices and personalities can figure out how to work together and come to a decision. (Saporito). We found eleven men, persuaded by prejudices, personal experiences, and impractical thinking, tested by one man who held himself and the other jurors to a higher standard of justice. He commanded that this disregarded member of society be given a fair trial and his due process. We saw the jurors struggle between the responsibility to punish the guilty and to protect the innocent. It proved that the logic behind the justice system does work.
The play also spoke about how America was a melting pot of different cultures, concepts, opinions, and personalities. This jury included a German immigrant watchmaker to an affluent broker to a nurse at a hospital. These men characterized the diversity in America and the many challenges that it presented. This battle became a vital part of the war within the play. Rose expressed this by making the jury room hot with the AC or fan not working to represent their hot tempers. But as the story went on, the tempers cooled as the rain and the finding of a fan in the seemed to cool off the room and they can think more reasonably.
Another thing I found interesting is that throughout the play, no names are used. You never hear the names of the jurors, anyone involved in the case, or even the witnesses. The lack of names given in the play was a reminder that it’s not the single person that matters in a jury. It’s the jury and its part in the judicial process. The defendant is mentioned as either defendant, accused, or boy. The witnesses are called the downstairs neighbor or the old man. There was no suggestions of time and place, except that it happened in the summer. I believe that it was with the expectation that anyone reading it will reflect on the bigger picture and not on the characters themselves. A reader may think that this somehow takes away from the characters’ personalities or the audience’s ability to relate to them. To the contrary, the unnamed men who are tasked with the fate of a young man could be your father, husband, son, or grandfather and every personality type is portrayed in this fascinating psychological drama. (Bradford)
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