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Twelve Angry Men Justice or Innocence

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‘Reginald Rose is more concerned with whether the legal system delivers justice than guilt or innocence. ‘ Discuss. Set in the summer of 1957, Reginald Rose’s dramatic play, Twelve Angry Men, centres around twelve men summoned with the task of deciding a young man’s fate. Taking place in a New York courtroom, it follows the deliberations of the jurors as they attempt to make a unanimous verdict with regards to whether or not a sixteen year old is in fact guilty of murdering his father.

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Throughout the play, Rose demonstrates that there is far more concern with the pursuit of justice than any notion of guilt or innocence. The dramatist expresses this view by emphasising that prejudice obstructs the course of justice, and the need to question what constitutes as a ‘fact’ when examining the evidence presented. The justice system is also shown to be of greater importance through the broad representation of jurors and the manner in which the play concludes.

For the duration of the text, each juror is only identified by a number with no evidence to suggest that they even know each other’s names.

The jury however, is a cross-section of American society as it comprises of educated, old, working-class, business and even immigrant men. This is intended by the playwright as the value of each juror is as a social representation, not as individuals. This enables Rose to explore the framework of the legal system, and in particular, the notion of trial by one’s peers. Through the 11th Juror, it is exemplified that a juror’s civic responsibility ‘is a remarkable thing about democracy’, as it enables ordinary citizens, of equal standing, to implement justice.

The 8th Juror also represents possible strengths of the jury system as an element of the legal system. This is demonstrated by his confidence and the fact that he does not quail at the idea of ‘standing alone’ against a potentially unanimous ‘guilty’ verdict, as he eventually encourages other jurors that a young man’s life is worth some discussion. Thus, through the role of the jury, Rose asserts that ordinary people ensure an effective justice system. It is evident that he ultimately focuses on the value of a jury to the system, rather than their verdict alone.

In contrast, the playwright also highlights potential flaws in the jury system, where prejudice obstructs the pursuit of justice. This is supported by the 3rd Juror’s reluctance to change his initial ‘guilty’ verdict and the manner in which he characterises, ‘kids… nowadays. Angry! Hostile! ‘ This view is held because the 3rd Juror’s sees that his strained relationship with his son is mirrored in the relationship between the defendant and his father. He wishes to punish the young boy for the pain his own son has inflicted upon him. He ‘personally wants it, not because of the facts’.

This motivation consequently impacts his ability to make a rational, emotionally detached decision. Rose further conveys that irrational prejudice and justice is not compatible through the bigoted generalisations made regarding the defendant. Early on it is established that the youth on trial is from a slum area. His low socio-economic background is classed as ‘breeding grounds for criminals’ who are ‘menaces to society’. Many of the jurors make such assumptions in deciding the boy’s guilt or innocence rather than the merits of case.

Such prejudice therefore has the power to subvert the very systems meant to be impregnable to such concerns. Hence, by exploring a possible weakness of the legal system, Rose demonstrates that the underlying theme of the play is whether the legal system effectively delivers justice, not the truth surrounding the murder. The 8th Juror becomes a voice for Rose, reinforcing the need for reason and rationality during deliberations that take place in the jury room in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice.

He insists that the other jurors must carefully consider witness testimonies, not just accept what they have heard as true. Words of witnesses should be subject to the same questioning and cross-examination as the defendant. The jury’s over reliance on ‘circumstantial evidence’ is evident in their firm belief of the old man’s testimony. ‘The old man said so… That’s enough for me’. However, it is the 8th Juror who critically questions how easy it would be to identify a specific voice with the noise of the elevated train in the background.

As the 5th and 6th Jurors begin to think about the evidence logically, they realise, ‘maybe he didn’t hear it’, after all. Rose therefore illustrates that the recurring theme of a fair trial is of greater importance than if in fact, the boy is ‘guilty’. Rose further attempts to communicate to the audience the notion that the guilt or innocence of the defendant is irrelevant. Although the jurors have reached a unanimous decision, as the foreman informs the guard ‘we have a verdict’, the play concludes without revealing the outcome of the case.

It is not known whether the accused is truly guilty or if he is acquitted of murder. Despite this, it becomes clear that the defendant has received an impartial hearing, and is saved from injustice. Thus, the ultimate focus of the play is not to reveal the events leading up to and after the night of the murder, but to defend the justice system and explore its effectiveness. It is unequivocal that in the court-room drama, Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose imparts the notion that justice within the legal system is of greater concern than the truth.

This is demonstrated by the ordinary citizens who are responsible for making a unanimous verdict, Rose emphasises the need for reason, rationality and impartial decisions in the pursuit of justice. Also, by concluding the play without ever informing the audience whether the defendant is guilty or innocent indicates that the truth about the events in question will never be revealed. More pointedly, they are of little consequence. In the words of a juror, ‘everybody deserves a fair trial’.

Cite this Twelve Angry Men Justice or Innocence

Twelve Angry Men Justice or Innocence. (2016, Oct 26). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/twelve-angry-men-justice-or-innocence/

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