12 Angry Men Summary and Analysis

Act One (Part 2)

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--- Summary of Act One (Part 2) ---

Immediately, the jurors turn on 5th Juror, accusing him of having changed his vote out of sympathy for the boy. 9th Juror stands and admits to having changed his vote because he’d like to hear the arguments out. The men take a break. We learn that the 11th juror is a German watchmaker. 12th Juror works for an advertisement agency. 8th Juror is an architect, and 7th Juror sells marmalade.

8th Juror presents several hypothetical situations, based on the father’s criminal background, that could have gotten him killed that evening. Next, he attempts to discount the testimony by the old man living downstairs by deducing that, because of the sound made by the elevated train passing by, there’s no way he could have heard with certainty screaming and a body hitting the floor. 9th Juror identifies with the poor old man, believing that he might just be trying to feel important. 8th Juror concludes by saying that even if he did hear him say, “I’m gonna kill you,” that very well could be taken out of context as just a figure of speech. With this 5th Juror changes his vote to “not guilty,” and the vote is 9-3 in favor of guilty.

11th Juror raises another question of why the boy would return home, several hours after his father had been murdered, if he had been the one to murder him. 4th Juror suggests that he left the knife in a state of panic and then decided to come back for it later, but 11th Juror challenges this by reminding him that the fingerprints had been wiped off the knife, suggesting that the murderer left calmly. There is more question over the accuracy of the witnesses, and an argument breaks out. 8th Juror calls for another vote. This time, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 11th vote “not guilty,” and the deliberation continues.

After a brief argument, 8th Juror brings into question whether or not the downstairs neighbor, an old man who had suffered a stroke and could only walk slowly, could have gotten to the door to see the boy run down the stairs in fifteen seconds, as he had testified. 8th Juror recreates the floor plan of the apartment, while 2nd Juror times him, and they conclude that he would not have been able to reach his door in fifteen seconds.

3rd Juror reacts violently to this, calling it dishonest, saying that this kid had “got to burn.” 8th Juror calls him a “self-appointed public avenger” and a “sadist,” and 3rd leaps at him. Restrained by the other men, he shouts, “God damn it! I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him.” 8th Juror asks, “You don’t really mean you’ll kill me, do you?” proving his earlier point about how people say, “I’ll kill you,” when they don’t really mean it.

--- Analysis of Act One (Part 2) ---

In this section, the play begins to divide its jurors into three categories. First, 8th Juror stands alone as fighting for the boy. Now, one may include 9th Juror in this, as he does quickly become an advocate for the boy, after hearing a few of 8th Juror's arguments. Second, there are jurors who do presume the defendant to be guilty, but aren’t belligerent about their beliefs, simply convinced that he is guilty. This would include 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 12th Jurors. 3rd, 7th, and 10th Jurors seem particularly prejudiced or indifferent against the boy and are unmoved by the arguments of the others in this first act. For them, it is greater than simply changing their mind about the case; it requires them to challenge notions held deep within themselves.

8th Juror is clearly set up by Rose as the protagonist. He is characterized as level-headed and fair. At the beginning of the play, he is contemplating the case seriously, with due consideration, as opposed to many of the other jurors who treat it frivolously or don’t seem to care much at all. When the vote is taken, he votes “not guilty,” not because he is certain of the boy’s innocence, which would be a hard sell by any account, but he simply says, “I don’t know.” He wants to talk through the case and see what conclusion they find, as opposed to jumping to a guilty verdict. We are clearly meant to view him as doing the right, though difficult, thing. He is a classic hero, faced by what seems to be an overwhelming challenge, to convince these men. In this first act, we see him remain stoic and steadfast in his quest for justice, in the face of much opposition and nastiness, embodying an American ideal.

Furthermore, the scope of the play expands to become about how people come to decisions. The individual psychologies of the jury members interact in a very complex manner. Earlier in the act, it seemed very clear that it is a group of men against 8th Juror, and that group seemed to speak with one voice, using the same logic. However, as the play progresses, we see that each of the jurors came to their decision in a very different manner. 2nd Juror seems to have been swayed simply by the tone of the courtroom, which is reflective of his characterization as meek, perhaps susceptible to popular influence. We are encouraged to believe that 3rd Juror’s opinion is influenced by his bad relationship with his son, and 4th Juror seems to be completely reliant upon the facts of the case. Here, the group psychology breaks down into the individual psychology. Where this group of eleven found it so easy to convict him jointly, it becomes harder for them, as their individual beliefs and motivations are put on trial.