Twelve Angry Men

Author: Reginald Rose

Twelve men enter the jury room, having heard the evidence from a murder trial. It seems a foregone conclusion: obviously guilty. Yet one juror holds out and votes “not guilty,” not so much because he is convinced of the boy’s innocence as that it doesn’t seem right to condemn the boy without at least discussing the case first. Gradually, the juror drags the others unwillingly back through the evidence, not so much even trying to convince them as just to get them to look at the evidence clearly themselves. And surprisingly, through much persistence, he is able to do just that . . . resulting in an unexpected conclusion of “not guilty!”

I think Twelve Angry Men is a play that everyone should see or read at least once. First of all, it provides a clear look at what really makes the American judicial system, at its core, what it is–and I must say, this play makes things clearer to me than a textbook ever did. But I think even more than that, this story is a fascinating character study. The eighth juror (the holdout) is obviously a logical, nice guy–one who’s willing to stand up against the flow of popular opinion. It’s really intriguing to see, as the jurors’ discussion proceeds, how each of the members reacts. Particularly interesting is they way in which each person’s prior experiences, character, and mental patterns play in to what piece of evidence or argument convinces them to change their vote. The writing shows a great knowledge and observation of people’s character, of what makes different people tick. Seriously, if you haven’t already, you should read Twelve Angry Men; it’s a great play, plus it’s short enough to read in one sitting.

Note: Although this post particularly focuses on the play Twelve Angry Men in its script form, I would also highly recommend the 1957 movie version, which is very similar and is performed with an excellent cast.

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