Prejudice in 12 Angry Men

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  • 0:00 What Is Prejudice?
  • 1:05 Prejudice In ''12 Angry Men''
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Catherine Rose

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

Have you ever been treated unfairly because of where you live or what you look like? Prejudice is real in our society. In the television movie, ''12 Angry Men'' by Reginald Rose, prejudice plays a part in the opinions of the jurors of a murder trial.

What Is Prejudice?

You are sitting on a crowded bus on the way into the city. You watch as a young African-American boy gets on the bus, and he sees several people slide away from him or hold tighter to their bags. You see another lady board the bus who has tattered clothing and an unpleasant smell. You watch as people refuse to acknowledge her or even slide over so she cannot sit near them. What is happening on this bus?

You realize you are witnessing prejudice in several passengers, a feeling of dislike for someone else, not based on actual interactions with the person at all. These feelings are typically based on preconceived opinions about the person's race, gender, nationality, religion, or even socio-economic situation. When people make decisions based on feelings of prejudice, they do not account for individual differences.

On a jury, feelings of prejudice are supposed to be suppressed. However, many people have difficulty ignoring their negative feelings toward others who are different. This situation can lead to incorrect assumptions, and possibly impulsive guilty verdicts.

Prejudice in 12 Angry Men

Reginald Rose illuminated this tendency to allow prejudice to influence decision-making in 12 Angry Men. In this story, several jurors serving in a murder trial show how their own prejudices influence their decisions as they attempt to base their votes on their racist feelings toward the defendant.

These feelings come out as early as Act One. For example, Juror 3 says, 'That man's a dangerous killer. You could see it.' Here, he is assuming that a killer must 'look' a certain way, indicating his prejudice against those who look like the defendant. He follows that comment with the statement: 'They sent him to reform school for stabbing someone.' This idea assumes that because the kid might have stabbed someone in the past, he is certainly guilty in this case.

Finally, Juror 3 shows his prejudice toward those who live in lower socioeconomic areas when he says, 'It's the kids. That's the way they are---you know, they don't listen.' Juror 3 is the final member of the group to change his vote to not guilty because his level of prejudice is so high that he has difficulty truly examining the evidence.

Also in Act One, in response to a comment about the defendant's story being phony, Juror 10 states, 'You know what you're dealing with.' Here, this juror is assuming that a person like the defendant naturally lies. He follows that later with the statement, 'Look at the kind of people they are. You know them.' In this comment, he is lumping all people like the defendant together and deciding that they are all the same.

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