Twelve Angry Men is a legal drama, written by Reginald Rose during the heightened period of 1950’s McCarthyism. The didactic play presents a cross section, examining 1950’s America during a period of immense suspicion and uncertainty. Roses’ play reminds us of the importance of responsibility and integrity, emphasising qualities such as courage that aid in preserving justice. The play examines the power of the “lone voice” and places a special emphasis on the serving of justice over the quest for truth through a central plot and strategic framing.
The idea of time versus responsibility is also addressed by Rose as his jurors struggle between honouring their role as civil servants and desires to “be elsewhere”. The didactic play uncovers the virtues of the judicial system and thus highlights the jurors responsibility and the great power that they carry. Twelve Angry men extends beyond the realms of a moralistic courtroom drama, as it is applicable to both modern and contemporary audiences to ultimately highlight the importance of greater responsibility in the real world.
The play begins with the disembodied voice of the judge, his last words of “honest deliberation… ood conscious and reasonable doubt” left to resonate with the jurors as they produce a “verdict”. Twelve Angry Men finishes with an enigmatic conclusion whereby the innocence of “the boy” is unknown. The framing of the play acts as a device employed by Rose to place an emphasis on the “deliberation process” and the importance of justice over the discovery of truth. “What they are supposed to do” as reiterated by Juror 8 is discuss the case and the reliability and validity of the evidence presented in court as the “burden of proof rests on the prosecution”.
The plot remains central, confined to the claustrophobic deliberation room on “one of the hottest days of the year”. The jurors are starkly reminded of the paramount responsibility they carry dictated by the New York skyline situated outside of the “three windows that frame the room”. Rose utilises a central plot and setting to ensure the jurors remain focused on deliberating and the audience’s engagement is limited to the deliberation process. The central focus creates a narrow spectrum in which the didactic themes of the play can be reiterated and emphasised.
The play’s juror 8 emphasises that “the boys life is not a game”, constantly refocusing the jurors to the deliberation process when they digress. Through juror 8 Rose further highlights the importance of the juror’s roles and their responsibility as civil servants. This also serves as a reminder to society to remain integral to their responsibility as civilians and thus Rose’s non fictional undertone is carried through his fictional plot and characters. The play is limited to a timeline in which Rose aims to convey his didactic message and hence the importance of social responsibility.
The time elapsed in the play is synonymous with the amount of time the audience spend viewing, to create a sense of realism and dire importance. Within this period Rose addresses the issue of time versus responsibility as apathy within jurors serves to undermine the justice system and compromise the mechanisms of justice. “This better be quick” is a notion adopted by juror 7 serving as a justification behind his impulsive “guilty” verdict. The clock on the wall acts as a motif that exposes apathetic jurors such as 7 who would “risk a boys life” because he has “tickets burning a hole in his pocket”.
Juror 7’s lack of accountability becomes evident when he says that “talking for hundred years wouldn’t change [his] vote” and even further established when “he doesn’t know” the reason behind his transition to a “not guilty” vote. Juror 3 adopts a sense of impulsivity when he urges to get the deliberation process “over with” because the jurors “probably have somewhere else to be”. Time acts as a constant reminder of the power the jurors carry and the negative impact their impulsive and somewhat rushed decisions have on the “boys” life.
Juror 8 often acts juxtaposition to this notion in that he extends the time frame in which the jurors should deliberate. Its “not easy for [juror 8] to vote not guilty without talking about it first” and so Rose uses juror 8’s “lone voice” to provoke other jurors into “taking an hour” or so to talk about the trial and fulfil the judges orders of “honest deliberation”. Rose uses time to create a contrast between the jurors who adopt a sense of responsibility and those who take their power for granted, ultimately highlighting the insignificance of time in comparison to the dear life of a person.
The table around which the jurors deliberate acts a centrepiece in the otherwise simple and minimalistic room. The table is embellished with scars that represent the burden that lies on the justice system highlighting the importance of the safeguards that serve to maintain it. The safeguards are an extension of American Democracy that implement equality and fairness even in the most black and white of cases. Rose uses the safeguards to hammer a sense of responsibility into the jurors reminding them of their duty. Rose also highlights the flaws of characters that potentially interrupt the safeguards and hence disrupt the justice system.
The table is scarred by prejudice, the deflection of responsibility and indifference, qualities that burden the justice system and its mechanisms. Juror 10 allows racism to cloud his ability to “deliberate fairly and honestly” ultimately influencing his “guilty verdict”. His attaches a stigma to the boy on trial as being “vicious and violent” and is thus unable to consider and fulfil his responsibility. Juror 6 “leaves the supposing” to others and emphasises his unwillingness to deliberate due to his apathetic and reliant nature, likely to be imposed by the McCarthyist era.
Juror 12’s desire to be elsewhere interrupts his ability to deliberate and adhere to the safeguards for his head is lost within his profession. His unfamiliarity with the Woolworth building also acts as an indication of his ignorance and ability to fathom the immensity of his duty. These characteristics reoccur over the duration of the play, serving as a reminder of the traits that undermine the necessity of responsibility and thus contribute to the central scars of the justice system.
Through these jurors Rose highlights the importance of the safeguards and hence responsibility, particularly in socially fragile periods such as the 1950’s. Unlike McCarthy, Rose is an advocate for responsibility and thus offers the importance such responsibility through Twelve Angry Men. The play acts as a constant reminder of the importance of social responsibility to uphold and maintain the well-being of society. The realistic nature of the play ensures that the didactic message resonates with both modern and contemporary audiences maximising the efficiency of the plays non fictional themes.
Through the reoccurrence of a “lone voice” Rose highlights the power of courage and bravery in instilling a sense of responsibility within others. Roses powerful message is not limited to the court room drama Twelve Angry men, his wisdom extends both into the audience and society as his quest for justice overrides and deems the discovery of truth irrelevant. Rose ultimately shows us the importance of justice, and the integral role of civilians to uphold and maintain equality within society despite their uncertainty and perhaps even their fear.