53 pages 1 hour read

Reginald Rose

Twelve Angry Men

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1954

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Summary and Study Guide


Reginald Rose was born in Manhattan, New York in 1920. He saw active service during the Second World War and began his writing career in 1950 with the play The Bus to Nowhere. The experience of serving on a jury in 1954 inspired Rose to write his most famous work, Twelve Angry Men. The play was first broadcast as a one-hour television drama that same year. In 1957, the play was adapted for film, starring Henry Fonda as the principled 8th Juror. The film earned several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, and remains a critically-acclaimed classic. Twelve Angry Men debuted as a stage drama in 1964, with Rose’s revised versions of the play later appearing in 1996 and 2004.

Rose continued to have a successful career writing for television and film throughout his life: His works include multiple TV plays, episodes for various TV series, and film screenplays. He won several Emmys for his television work and received other honors such as the Berlin Golden Bear in 1957 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Writers Guild of America. Rose died in 2002.

This study guide uses the Penguin Classics edition (2006), published by Penguin Random House. This version of the play is divided into two acts and does not contain line numbers. All citations in the following guide therefore provide both the act and relevant page number for each quotation.

Plot Summary

Twelve Angry Men takes place within a single setting: a New York City jury room in 1957. Twelve jurors are present to debate the fate of a young boy accused of his father’s murder. Since the charge is first-degree murder, the accused will be put to death if found guilty. Over the course of the play, the backgrounds and personalities of some of the jurors become clearer. The 1st Juror/Foreman is a football coach. The 2nd Juror is a quiet man who tries to keep the peace. The 3rd Juror is a self-made businessman. The 4th Juror is a broker, detached and analytical but also prejudiced against the poor. The 5th Juror is a healthcare worker from the slums. The 6th Juror is a house painter. The 7th Juror is a salesman with a deep interest in baseball. The 8th Juror is an architect. The 9th Juror is an elderly man. The 10th Juror is a mechanic who is deeply prejudiced against people of color. The 11th Juror is a German immigrant and former refugee. The 12th Juror is an advertising agent. All 12 of these jurors remain nameless in the play; their anonymity allows them to function more as archetypes than individually-realized characters.

At the outset of deliberations, 11 voters deliver “guilty” verdicts, and only the 8th Juror submits a verdict of “not guilty.” He urges the others to commit to at least an hour of deliberations since the life of the accused is at stake. The jury then proceeds to re-evaluate the evidence presented during the trial, their discussions growing increasingly impassioned. When the 8th Juror demonstrates that the murder weapon—a switchblade—is not as unique as the prosecution claimed, the 9th Juror joins him in his “not guilty” vote. He in turn raises doubts about the credibility of one eyewitness to the crime, leading the 5th Juror to change his vote as well.

The 8th and 3rd Jurors nearly come to blows as the debate intensifies. By this point the jury is evenly split, and tensions flare between the 7th and 11th Jurors when the latter—an immigrant—objects to presenting themselves as a hung jury. When discussion of the case resumes, the 5th Juror’s insight into the murder weapon leads more jurors to switch their votes. As the testimony of the other eyewitness begins to fall apart under scrutiny, the 3rd Juror emerges as the only holdout. Eventually, he is forced to admit that his bias against the accused is rooted in his estrangement from his own son. Faced with the reality of his motivations, the 3rd Juror also changes his verdict, and the jury delivers a unanimous verdict of “not guilty” at the play’s close.

Throughout the play, the central conflict is the tension between the prejudices of some of the other jurors and the more nuanced commitment to “reasonable doubt” upheld by the 8th Juror and—eventually—his supporters. The “anger” alluded to in the play’s title, Twelve Angry Men, refers to the behavior of the jurors, who clash with one another throughout the deliberations. The most consistent and dangerous form of anger in the play is prejudice, which threatens to undermine the integrity of the justice system. In standing up for the ideal of “reasonable doubt,” the 8th Juror eventually succeeds in helping most of the other jurors become more thoughtful and fair-minded in their attitudes, suggesting that the antidote to prejudice is justice and a commitment to democratic equality.