JUDGE'S VOICE: ...and that concludes the court's explanation of the legal aspects of this case. And now, gentlemen of the jury, I come to my final instruction to you. Murder in the first degree - premeditated homicide - is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts. You've listened to the testimony and you've had the law read to you and interpreted as it applies to this case. It now becomes your duty to try and separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. If this is a reasonable doubt - then you must bring me a verdict of "not guilty." If, however, there is no reasonable doubt - then you must, in good conscience, find the accused guilty. However you decide, your verdict must be unanimous. In the event you find the accused guilty, the bench will not entertain a recommendation for mercy. The death sentence is mandatory in this case. I don't envy your job. You are faced with a grave responsibility. Thank you, gentlemen.
This opening monologue brings us into the play. It serves two direct purposes. First, it serves as the introduction to the action of the play. We learn that the given situation is that a group of jurors must determine the guilt or innocence of this man, and we learn such specifics as that they must return a unanimous verdict and that the death sentence is mandatory, if convicted. In this sense, it is a very efficient and economical way to introduce the play.
It is also to be considered the way that Rose chooses to introduce this monologue. There is not a prequel scene where the men are addressed by the Judge, nor are the men on stage when the Judge's offstage monologue is said. Rather, it is to an empty stage, giving the effect that the monologue is not as much for the Jurors as it is for the audience themselves. It introduces a secondary dialogue in the play, in which the audience plays juror for the accused and for the Jurors on stage.
12TH JUROR: (to 8th Juror) What d'you think of the case? It had a lot of interest for me. No dead spots - know what I mean? I'll tell you we were lucky to get a murder case. I figured us for a burglary or an assault or something. Those can be the dullest.
This quote perfectly shows everything that Reginald Rose thinks is wrong with the American public and the justice system. Here we have someone who is about to make a decision that will either save a boy's life or kill him, and he's happy that it's a murder case, where a man died, because it's exciting for him. It shows a complete lack of concern, which concern 8th Juror will slowly come to impress upon the other jurors. It makes the whole event sound more like a Roman circus than an American court of law.
8TH JUROR: ...Look, this boy's been kicked around all his life. You know - living in a slum, his mother dead since he was nine. He spent a year and a half in an orphanage while his father served a jail term for forgery. That's not a very good head start. He had a pretty terrible sixteen years. I think maybe we owe him a few words. That's all.
In contrast to the previous monologue, this displays why 8th Juror is repeatedly characterized as the passionate, responsible model of an American citizen. He is not unreasonably confident that the boy is innocent. He admits that he is not sure, but he feels that it is the boy's right that they at least give him a fair shot. He recognizes that this boy has had hard times, and he sticks up for him. Rose represents this moment as one good American standing up for the weaker man.
3RD JUROR: Yeah, well I've got (a kid). He's twenty. We did everything for that boy, and what happened? When he was nine he ran away from a fight. I saw him. I was so ashamed I almost threw up. So I told him right out. "I'm gonna make a man outa your or I'm gonna bust you in half trying." Well, I made a man outa him all right. When he was sixteen we had a battle. He hit me in the face. He's big, y'know. I haven't seen him in two years. Rotten kid. You work your heart out...[He breaks off. He has said more than he intended. He is embarrassed.] All right. Let's get on with it.
Here, Rose gives us a glimpse into the irrationalities and prejudices that can play into any given member of a jury. Here, 3rd Juror reveals that he has a troubled relationship with his son, which resulted in his being in a fight, parallel to how the accused allegedly got into a fight with his father, which resulted in his death. We begin to understand that all of the members of the jury are human with an infinite number of life experiences upon which any decision might be based. They are not creatures of pure logic and reason, but people with feelings and histories.
8TH JUROR: No. I'm saying it's possible that the boy lost the knife and that someone else stabbed his father with a similar knife. It's possible.
[The 8th Juror stands for a moment in silence, then he reaches into his pocket and swiftly withdraws a knife. He holds it in front of his face and flicks open the blade, then he leans forward and sticks the knife into the table alongside the other. They are exactly alike. There is a burst of sound in the room.]
This is the first moment when 8th Juror really makes a crack into the case of the prosecutor. He proves that the knife claimed to be "one-of-a-kind" that the defendant owned wasn't as original as they may have been led to believe. Negating the legitimacy of evidence in this way lends itself to the creation of reasonable doubt, which, if it is exist, is grounds for a verdict of 'not guilty.'
6TH JUROR: I'm not used to supposing. I'm just a working man. My boss does the supposing. But I'll try one. Suppose you talk us all outa this and the kid really did knife his father?
This is an interesting contrast to the rest of the counterarguments we've been seeing. Previously, 8th Juror seems to be the voice of reason, and everyone else has some kind of block, preventing them from being rational. Here, 6th Juror provides a completely rational and very real argument why 8th Juror should not necessarily be so eager to acquit him. What's interesting is that the possibility remains throughout the entirety of the play that the accused really did kill his father. Naturally, we come to be on the side of the hero, 8th Juror, and naturally root for a verdict of 'not guilty,' but we cannot ever shake the reality that there's a very real chance that the accused did, in fact, murder his father, in which case justice would not have been served.
9TH JUROR: It's just that I looked at him for a very long time. The seam of his jacket was split under his arm. Did you notice it? I mean, to come to court like that. He was a very old man with a torn jacket and he walked very slowly to the stand. He was dragging his left leg and trying to hide it because he was ashamed. I think I know him better than anyone here. This is a quiet, frightened, insignificant old man who has been nothing all his life, who has never had recognition, his name in the newspapers. Nobody knows him, nobody quotes him, nobody seeks his advice after seventy-five years. That's a very sad thing, to be nothing. A man like this needs to be recognized, to be listened to, to be quoted just once. This is very important. It would be so hard for him to recede into the background...
This marks a shift in the tactic of argument. Previously, we have seen 8th Juror try, piece by piece, to challenge the validity of the evidence. However, here 9th Juror considers a much more humanistic approach of considering the evidence. He ponders the old man and extrapolates a completely synthesized understanding of this old man. It is very compelling and affects some of the other jurors. The difference between this argument and the others previously given is that this one has nothing to do with any of the evidence. 9th Juror doesn't actually know anything about this old man. For all he knows, his jacket ripped on the door as he was walking into the building, but he takes these context clues to explain and discredit the old man's testimony. We are moved, as an audience. However, we cannot help but acknowledge the fact that it might be complete garbage.
8TH JUROR: But supposing he really did hear it. This phrase, how many times has each of us used it? Probably hundreds, "I could kill you for doing that, darling." "If you do that once more, Junior, I'm going to kill you." "Come on, Rocky, kill him." We say it every day. It doesn't mean we're going to kill someone.
3RD JUROR: Shut up, you son of a bitch! Let me go, God damn it! I'll kill him! I'll kill him!
8TH JUROR: You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?
These two complimentary moments mark a turning point in the argument. The conflict between 3rd Juror and 8th Juror reaches a boiling point, and 3rd Juror attacks him. However, what he inadvertently does is prove an earlier point of 8th Juror. This further serves to intensify the conflict between the two, further casting them by Rose as the protagonist and antagonist, which conflict continues to be a massive obstacle for 8th Juror.
Furthermore, what it does for the audience and for the other jurors is to completely ruin the credibility of 3rd Juror as an impartial observer and juror. 8th Juror has managed to make 3rd Juror look like a mad man to the other jurors, and he becomes increasingly less effective in his efforts to maintain support throughout the second act.
11TH JUROR: ...If you want to vote not guilty, then do it because you're convinced the man is not guilty - not because you've had enough. And if you think he's guilty, then vote that way, or don't you have the guts to do what you think is right?
11th Juror here says one of the most important maxims of the play. Reginald Rose surely doesn't ask society to acquit every defendant, or even to acquit just the poor ones. The play asks that if you are brought into a jury room, you respect the process and treat it and those at stake with the dignity deserved. On a broader level, the play asks you to simply do what you think is right. In this moment, 7th Juror has changed his vote to 'not guilty' because he's tired of arguing, and he sees the tide of opinion swaying in that direction. 11th Juror admonishes him for this, despite the fact that he, himself, was on the 'not guilty' side. More than he wants the boy acquitted, he wants the group of jurors to do what is right, and that means following your honest, unbiased opinion, whatever that may be.
3RD JUROR: ...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.
8TH JUROR: It's not your boy. He's somebody else.
4TH JUROR: Let him live.
[There's a long pause.]
3RD JUROR: All right. "Not guilty."
This is the climax of the play. When once it was 8th Juror versus 11, it is now 3rd Juror versus 11. He makes a passionate plea to convict the boy, which slowly descends into a rant which makes it very clear that he is unable to separate his feelings for his own son and the defendant. This becomes increasingly apparent over the course of the speech. 8th and 4th plead that he see that his views are not based in rationality, and he still has the choice to do what is right. Interestingly, Rose allows for this moment to be a kind of victory for everyone. It is a victory for the defendant, who is now acquitted, and who we now believe to be (possibly!) innocent. It is a victory for the audience, who has come to support 8th Juror and the defendant. It is a victory for 8th Juror, in his crusade of justice, but it is also a victory for 3rd Juror, who is finally able to face his own prejudices and his own internal conflict regarding his son and ultimately choose to do the right thing and vote 'not guilty.' He is not defeated as much as he finally defeats his own inner demons.
12 Angry Men Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for 12 Angry Men is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The knife represents the idea that facts are not nessaserily all that they seem. Initially the knife was supposed to be unique and hence lay guilt on the boy. Juror number 8 however, brings out the same type of knife and slams it on the table. He...