Twelve Angry Men embraces realistic and naturalistic traditions, presenting an everyday legal drama and the interpersonal conflicts it can generate. It is set during the Cold War when America was struggling for political and economic dominance over powerful nations such as the Soviet Union. As a social critic, Reginald Rose explores the internal conflict in the 1950’s where Communism was feared and racial segregation was still present. Not only does the play echo people’s fear of anyone who was different at the time, it addresses questions of prejudice in the American Jury system.
The audience is challenged to evaluate their own possible prejudices and value human compassion over narrow-mindedness and bigotry. To convey his central concern, Rose’s stage directions are concise and delivered in two acts. He deliberately chose a particular setting and characters to use in the play and these essentially contribute to the tension and anger in the play and also clarify moral issues explored in the play. The division of the play in two Acts is an effective device used by Rose to convey what is happening in the jury room.
The division of the acts also serves to build up the tension in the play with both acts ending in dramatic climaxes. The first act ends with Juror 3 lunging towards Juror 8 with a knife and threatening to kill him and both men staring silently at each other. The second act ends after Juror 10 has presented his dramatic tirade and prejudiced views about those who come from similar backgrounds to the defendant. and Juror 3’s final speech at the conclusion of the play where he finally lets go of all his anger and accepts Juror 8’s kind gesture.
Because each act unfolds with unbroken dialogue, very important pauses and silences have been incorporated by the playwright to reinforce key developments that are occurring in the plot. For example, when Juror 8 is asked about the implications of the jury delivering an incorrect “not guilty” verdict and thus releasing a murderer back into the community, the stage directions indicate Juror 8‘s internal state as he “stands alone for a few moments” in silence and giving a strong impression to the audience of how much this is “tormenting him.
He does not know, and never will”. The pauses within the acts are crucial in the development of the plot as they give the audience a time to reflect on and internalize key moments in the play. The absence of scene breaks within each act also allows the plot to be played out in “real time” which serves to compliment the naturalistic style of the play. The setting in the play also follows the naturalist style and is essential for giving the audience a real sense of the social and cultural context.
The play begins at the conclusion of the courtroom trial and the Judge’s offstage voiceover, reminds the jury of the duty they must fulfill and also reminds them that a young mans life is at stake. It also serves to inform the audience of the details of the trial that are not included in the play. The opening stage directions begin with a description of the weather conditions – it is a “very hot oppressive summer afternoon”. The appearance of the room is described as a “Large, drab, bare room in need of painting”.
The large table, enclosed space and 12 chairs arouse feelings of claustrophobia in the jurors. The air-conditioner is broken and the fan does not initially work. The Jurors are locked in and feel confined – 5th Juror, “ I never knew they locked the door”. These aspects of the setting contribute to the short tempers and frustrations of the Jurors. They serve as metaphors and symbols for the intensity and heat that is brewing in the room and in the moods of the Jurors. Similarly, the characters in the play also serve as metaphors and symbols with none of the Jurors having names but only numbers.
Using names would have a personalizing effect on the men whereas using numbers maintains their status as symbols of types of behavior and perspectives and represents a cross-section of society. For example, Juror 8 represents compassion, kindness and truth and Juror 10 is the embodiment of prejudice and bigotry and believes people from slums are “trash”. Juror 3 is an aggressive thug who is judgmental and biased and Juror 9 is the kind elderly gentleman wanting to do the right thing.
In addition, when Rose constructs the defendant profile, he also remains nameless. Only certain facts are known about the boy and his violent background. The Jurors and audience are invited to judge him based on only a few facts. Some Jurors are quick to judge the boy as a “a menace to society”. While others defend the boy, such as the 8th Juror, “Look, this boy’s been kicked around all his life… He’s had a pretty terrible 16 years. I think maybe we owe him a few words”.
The audience is invited to clarify their own values regarding young offenders from dysfunctional families and poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods Reginald Rose’s play draws out and explores prejudices within the judicial system. By using a mix of Jurors that represent a cross-section of the community and a vulnerable defendant from a poor socio-economic background, prejudices are drawn out in the Jurors and explored. By using various structural devices, Rose challenges his audience to look at their own prejudices and narrow-mindedness and value human compassion instead.
Rose’s stage directions convey his messages and serve to clarify the moral issues explored and critiqued. Critique of sample essay: Analyses of the stage directions in the play- it has some quite obvious flaws: had some typos and minor errors in it However it is useful fro you to analyse this response and analyse what works well in it and what doesn’t. For instance, how well has she addressed the topic? (Note the topic refers to Rose’s “intended social criticism” – how well has she addressed this?
In the introduction she refers to the social and historical context of the play, but doesn’t pick this up in the body of the essay – does this make an effective introduction? The students might consider what effect this has on a reader. Does she present a clear contention in the introduction? Overall, this is a creditable first attempt at this type of essay, incorporating metalanguage, analysis of setting, understanding of the characters, use of specific detail and supporting evidence and maintaining a focus on how the playwright has constructed meaning.
The student has obviously prepared quite thoroughly, even if, (in her attempt to include as much information as she could! ) she has not addressed the topic as well as she might and her essay lacks cohesiveness. VCE markers award marks for what is there rather than for what is missing and so this essay was marked in the B range (and subsequently, this student went on to obtain a B+ on the final exam and a Study Score in the 30’s).