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Bias in Twelve Angry Men (film)

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‘It’s very hard to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And no matter where you run into it, prejudice obscures the truth.’ [Juror 8, page 53] Perhaps this best sums up the basis of ‘Twelve Angry Men’ by Reginald Rose. This play is about a young delinquent on trial for the murder of his abusive father. The jury must find him guilty if there is no reasonable doubt, and in turn, sentence him to death. ‘I don’t envy your job. You are faced with a grave responsibility.’ [Judge, page 1]

People’s bias and predispositions can affect their opinion of different circumstances and different people. This is very evident throughout the play. After the first group vote and juror 8 votes not guilty, a discussion ensues. It is there that the jurors’ personal prejudices come out and we the readers/viewers are able to see how this has influenced and shaped what they think.

There are many examples of this. Juror 3 is perhaps the most prejudiced of all the jurors, fighting every argument that didn’t go his way and refusing to accept that the accused may be innocent. His own reasons for this are a prodigal son, who punched him in the face and he hasn’t seen in two years. Things come to a head when he goes into a tirade after the other 11 jurors have voted not guilty. The phrase was “I’m gonna kill you.” That’s what he said. To his own father. I don’t care what kind of man that was. It was his father. That goddamn rotten kid. I know him. What they’re like. What they do to you. How they kill you every day. My God, don’t you see? How come I’m the only one who sees? Jeez, I can feel that knife goin’ in.’ [Juror 3, page 59]

Also heavily biased, Juror 10 is a racist bigot, intolerant and accusative.

‘I don’t understand you people! I mean all these picky little points you keep bringing up. They don’t mean nothin’. You saw this kid just like I did. You’re not gonna tell me you believe that phony story about losing the knife, and that business about being at the movies. Look, you know how these people lie! It’s born in them! I mean what the heck? I don’t even have to tell you. They don’t know what the truth is! And lemme tell you, they don’t need any real big reason to kill someone, either! No sir! [Juror 10, page 51] This type of prejudice offended many of the other jurors, especially Juror 5 who is of similar race to the accused.

However, it isn’t just the jurors’ own personal prejudice that affects the way they vote. The prosecution of the boy led the jurors to believe that he was a guilty beyond all doubt. Also, the boy’s representation was uninterested and uncaring. ‘I kept putting myself in the boy’s place. I would have asked for another lawyer, I think. I mean, if I was on trial for my life I’d want my lawyer to tear the prosecution witnesses to shreds, or at least to try.’ [Juror 8, page 14]

This case was one of truth and justice. It becomes evident when the Juror 9 says to Juror 10. ‘Do you think you have a monopoly on truth?’ [Juror 9, page 8] The fact is, nobody really knows what the truth is, and at the end of the play, still nobody does. The boy may have been guilty, but as Juror 8 pointed out, who were they to make that assumption? Most of the Jurors had taken for granted that what the prosecution had told them was the truth. Through much discussion the Jurors realised that this may not have been the case. They

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