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The Cultural Allegories Behind Twelve Angry Men

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The Cultural Allegories Behind Twelve Angry Men essay
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Twelve Angry Men is an allegorical play written by Reginald Rose in 1955. It depicts the way in which economic, social and cultural factors can have a significant impact on the process of justice. Rose encapsulates 1950s America through each of the 12 jurors, giving them back-stories relating to economic, social and cultural factors.

Post-war America flourished with wealth, production, and use of income and wealth on commodities. While America was emerging as a superpower in the world, Europeans were penny-pinching and living in a time of austerity. Thus, with immigrants from Europe came a sense of xenophobia and racism within Americans. An example of the bigoted and racist persona is Juror 10, to which he refers to people in the ‘slums’ as ‘common ignorant slob[s]’. Rose is criticizing the racist attitudes of society in 1950s America through the character of Juror 10, as he is an elderly man with a merciless approach to new things. He does this through the contrast between Juror 9 and 10. Juror 9 is also elderly, with his opinion often being overlooked, however he understands, to some extent, the legal system, the role of a juror and the method behind ‘reasonable doubt’. He has taken the time to try to modernize and relate to the younger generations, rather than being ignorant and uninformed like Juror 9.

Rose is criticizing the older generations values and the oblivious attitudes employed by some members of the elderly generation. Another example is Juror 11’s background. Rose welcomes those in society who speak out against others who are narrow-minded and discriminatory to those in a lower class, and Juror 11’s attention to detail and understanding of ‘responsibility’ engages into this. Juror 11 understands that ‘facts may be coloured by the personalities who present them’, and that respect for the legal system and the law aids in the process of a progressive society. Hence, Rose’s appreciation of the legal system highlights his disdain of social class prejudice and racism through the factors of commercial gain.

The role of a juror is to disregard any outside influences and solely focus on the job at hand, and though each of the jurors will have pre-disposed ideas and thoughts, some will display them, and some will not. As a result of being in a society, each juror has some form of pre-conceived beliefs, and their job is to put those aside and focus on the case, to decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty. An example of how outside stimuli have influenced the decisions made in the jury room is when Juror 3 states that ‘we’re trying to put a guilty man in the chair where he belongs.’ Rose is criticizing the ill-informed nature of some members of society through showing what Juror 3 thinks his job is. His predetermined set of values shine through, and Rose is exposing the disregard and disrespect of justice.

Another example of how outside influences can impact the decisions in a jury room are when Juror 4 says ‘The slums are a breeding ground for criminals.” Rose is chastising the class gap in society through this blatant display of social prejudice. Also, Juror 7 is more interested in going to the baseball game, and only changes his vote so he can go home. He is bored and uninterested in the case, and can’t be bothered to be involved. Rose explores the blatant insult of justice that embodies many Americans, reprehending the ill-informed ways of living that some choose to live. Thus, social factors can largely impact the course of justice.

The cultural factors surrounding the production of this play can give great insight into Rose’s principles and what he values. When this play was written, Americans were convinced the Soviet Union was going to take over the world, and anybody sympathetic to the idea of Communism was now considered an enemy. People were turning in family, friends, and relatives in order to save themselves, and did so without any solid evidence. This defied the burden of proof and the idea of reasonable doubt, and left Americans fearful of expressing their views in fear of being labeled a communist sympathizer.

Rose wrote Twelve Angry Men in order to reflect America’s society at the time, using the play to show Americans that what they were doing was morally wrong through buying into the paranoia of the era. Rose wished to educate and motivate people to speak out, rather than just being a follower. An example of this is when the first vote is taken, and some hands ‘go up immediately’, whereas ‘several others go up more slowly’. This is a prime example of the repercussions of McCarthyism, of which Rose is criticising. People in 1950s America were too worried about expressing their own views and saving themselves than ensuring the course of justice wasn’t obscured. Rose wished to highlight this in the play, and did so by instilling fear in everyday citizens. Thus, cultural factors are a huge impact on the process of justice, for it defied the sole underlying function of the system.

Rose wrote this allegorical play to instill fear into Americans, and to educate them on the significant impact their attitudes and actions can have on the legal system, and how they may corrupt it. The law is created to govern, not to undermine, and Rose used economic, social and cultural factors to portray this to his audience.

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