Analysis of 12 Angry Men

Instructor: Catherine Rose

Catherine taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in Education.

What gives a literary work cultural value? What makes it a timeless reflection of a society? In this lesson, we will explore Reginald Rose's ''12 Angry Men'' and determine its cultural value in our society.

Literature and Culture

You are watching the news and shocked by the murders, abuse of children, acts or racism, and treatment of those with disabilities. In a society, there are certain behaviors that are considered acceptable or unacceptable. Those behaviors represent a society's values, and they are essential to the identity of the people who live there. Literature often reflects these values, whether to shine a light on the mistakes or to honor those who behave appropriately. When literature presents value statements that are timely regardless of the generation, we say that the piece has cultural value. While the work may be fiction, we are able to examine the events of the story and question our own actions or those of our society. This is the case with Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men. In this story, originally published in the 1950's, the attitudes and beliefs of the jurors can help us reflect upon our own prejudices and misconceptions about others.

Let's examine the story.

Brief Synopsis

The story opens with the judge giving directions to a jury regarding a murder case. The testimonies have been completed, and the jury is preparing to begin its deliberations. At this point, all we know is that a young man is on trial for killing his father.

When the jury enters the room, it is clear that most of them have already made up their minds as to the defendant's guilt. The first vote yields eleven guilty votes and one not guilty vote. Juror 8 votes not guilty and convinces the others to look at the evidence and testimonies more closely. After much arguing and discussing, they all eventually recognize that they have reasonable doubt and all vote not guilty. The story ends with the twelve jurors leaving the room to enter the courtroom with their final decision.

Cultural Value

What does it mean for a literary work to have cultural value? In order for a literary work to have cultural value, it must reflect the society's strengths and weaknesses. Let's look at a few societal attitudes found in this story.

Murder is repugnant

While the jurors may not be able to initially agree on anything else, they do seem to agree that the murder of the father was not acceptable. In Act One, the judge even instructs them regarding this, saying, One man is dead. Another's life is at stake. They all represent the typical belief in our society that murder is not something we accept. The fact that they are sitting on a jury for a trial for murder demonstrates society's belief that murder is not permitted.

Prejudice is a reality

Several jurors in the group have racist or intolerant tendencies. Juror 3 is angry for the majority of the story and is not open to any other opinions that differ from his own. For example, in Act III, he says, I am entitled to my opinion. It's gonna be a hung jury. That's it! Juror 7 is also guided by his lack of flexibility and racism, even to the point of bullying others to side with him. In Act III, he insults the alien, Juror 11, by saying, He comes over here running for his life, and before he can take a breath, he's telling us how to run the show. The arrogance of him! Juror 7 is showing his contempt for those he feels are not 'true' Americans. Juror 10 is the major racist in the group, assuming that because the defendant grew up in a lower socio-economic area, he must be guilty. The presence of racism in this group makes it culturally relevant because readers can see the harm that it does.

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