Twelve Angry Men

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The old man downstairs Character Analysis

A weak elderly man who offers a significant piece of testimony in court. The man walks with two canes. Juror Nine proposes that the old man testifies because he needs to be seen and heard, having been overlooked and lonely for too long. The jurors ultimately come to believe that the old man’s testimony of hearing the kid shout, “I’ll kill you!” and then seeing the kid fleeing down the stairs is questionable because of how long it would have taken him to move to the door of his apartment, plus the deafening sounds of a passing train.

The old man downstairs Quotes in Twelve Angry Men

The Twelve Angry Men quotes below are all either spoken by The old man downstairs or refer to The old man downstairs. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reflection of American Society Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the The Dramatic Publishing Company edition of Twelve Angry Men published in 1983.
Act 2 Quotes

Eight: An el train takes ten seconds to pass a given point, or two seconds per car. That el had been going by the old man's window for at least six seconds and maybe more, before the body fell, according to the woman. The old man would have had to hear the boy say, "I'm going to kill you," while the front of the el was roaring past his nose. It's not possible that he could have heard it.

Related Characters: Eight (speaker), The old man downstairs, The woman across the street
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage details one of Eight's arguments that introduces doubt into the case. The old man, one of the witnesses, heard the accused kid yell, "I'm going to kill you," and this piece of evidence helped solidify both the identity of the killer and the boy's intentions. However, the other main witness described these events through the window of a train roaring past the apartment building. How could the old man have heard the boy yell over the sound of the train? How can both these testimonies be true? By finding an inconsistency between the two testimonies, Eight calls both into question. Someone must have made a mistake or be lying, and this discredits the full testimony of the witness. It is unclear which witness is at fault, and so the jurors begin to doubt everything they accepted as fact from both witnesses. 

Over the course of this play, there is a gradual shift from certainty to doubt among the jurors. Certainty leads to a verdict of "guilty." They are never sure of the accused kid's innocence, and yet they begin to realize that his guilt is not certain. This doubt leads to a verdict of "not guilty." The terms "guilty" and "not guilty" reflect the relationship between certainty and doubt in a legal case. The terms are not "guilty" and "innocent"--instead, reasonable doubt is enough for a "not guilty" verdict. This shift from certainty to doubt occurs when the jurors begin to doubt the eyewitnesses' accounts of what happened.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Twelve Angry Men quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

Nine: It's just that I looked at him for a very long time. The seam of his jacket was split under the arm. Did you notice that? He was a very old man with a torn jacket, and he carried two canes. I think I know him better than anyone here. This is a quiet, frightened, insignificant man who has been nothing all his life, who has never had recognition—his name in the newspapers. Nobody knows him after seventy-five years. That's a very sad thing. A man like this needs to be recognized. To be questioned, and listened to, and quoted just once. This is very important.

Twelve: And you're trying to tell us he lied about a thing like this just so that he could be important?

Nine: No. He wouldn't really lie. But perhaps he'd make himself believe that he heard those words and recognized the boy's face.

Related Characters: Nine (speaker), The old man downstairs
Page Number: 33-34
Explanation and Analysis:

Nine feels that he understands the character of the old man who testified because he can relate most to him, as an old and (presumably) overlooked man himself. He points out details about the old man that he paid attention to and that might have seemed insignificant to the other jurors. He explains that the old man's ragged coat and his insecurities make him someone who is eager and grateful for the attention of the court. The psychological impact of this, to someone who is in desperate need of attention, will be to prolong that interaction. Twelve misunderstands this, as is clear when he asks whether Nine means that the old man lied in his testimony. Lying implies that the old man knowingly deceived the court and the jurors. Nine is speaking of something more subtle: the old man's slight exaggeration of his own certainty. He might have come to believe that he definitely saw the accused kid in the stairwell when in fact he wasn't certain at first. 

This passage provides another angle on the relationship between doubt and certainty. Doubt and certainty are not only the products of reason, but of emotion and memory. Even an eyewitness can be unsure of what he or she saw. Emotional pressure can impact one's certainty. It is easy, with time, to become more or less certain of what happened before one's eyes. Eye witnesses can be very unreliable for this reason. The doubt or certainty of the jurors is based on evidence which is already shifting between doubt and certainty. 

Three: (angrily). He's an old man. You saw him. Half the time he was confused. How could he be positive about anything? [Looks around sheepishly, unable to cover up his blunder.]

Related Characters: Three (speaker), The old man downstairs
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

The old man's testimony has seemingly been undermined by Nine's comments that the old man might have had a reason to exaggerate, to claim he was more certain than he was about what happened. But one of the details that he was most confident of was how long it took him to get to the door. And yet this time seems impossible to the jurors. Does this undermine the old man's testimony? He must have been lying or misremembering when stating the amount of time it took him to get to the door, and, therefore, he could be lying about or misremembering other details. This shred of doubt makes the jurors less certain about all of the old man's testimony. 

Three, in this passage, is quick to say that the details of the testimony shouldn't matter. Of course, he says, the old man got the time wrong. He's a confused old man. As he speaks these words, however, he realizes that they undermine his agenda by negating all of the old man's testimony. An error in the testimony shouldn't be explained away by stating that an old man was bound to make mistakes, so this one should be overlooked. This implies that anything else in the testimony could also be a mistake. The use of the word "positive" in Three's statement incorporates the idea of "certainty." It seems the old man couldn't be certain, which calls his testimony into reasonable doubt--the exact thing Three is stubbornly trying to avoid.

Get the entire Twelve Angry Men LitChart as a printable PDF.
Twelve angry men.pdf.medium

The old man downstairs Character Timeline in Twelve Angry Men

The timeline below shows where the character The old man downstairs appears in Twelve Angry Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2
Justice Theme Icon
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Three says the old man heard the kid yell at his father, “I'm going to kill you,” and then heard... (full context)
Justice Theme Icon
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
...that the sound as a train passes is incredibly loud. Eight then points out that the old man swore he heard the kid’s scream and the body fall. The woman across the street... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Prejudice vs. Sympathies Theme Icon
Eight says it's not possible that the old man could have heard what he claims to have heard. Two agrees and Three asks whether... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Nine says that the old man wouldn't lie, but he might make himself believe something that wasn't actually true. Nine says... (full context)
Reflection of American Society Theme Icon
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Theme Icon
...drop and Eight accepts one. Then he raises another point. He says that even if the old man could have heard the kid yell, “I'm going to kill you,” the boy probably wasn't... (full context)
Reflection of American Society Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
...think of everything. Seven, exasperated, asks whether, because of Eight, they are supposed to believe the old man didn't get up and run to the door to see the kid after the murder?... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Eight asks the jurors where the old man 's bedroom was in his apartment because he doesn't remember. Ten says that he thought... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Theme Icon
Prejudice vs. Sympathies Theme Icon
Eight wonders whether an old man who has had two strokes in the past three years and who uses a pair... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
...bed to the bedroom door plus the length of the hallway. Eleven points out that the old man had to be helped into the witness chair and could only move very slowly. Nine... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Prejudice vs. Sympathies Theme Icon
Ten says that Eight’s plan is insane and that he can't recreate the old man 's movements. Eight asks to have the chance to try because, according to Ten, it... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
 Ten tells Eight to speed up to match the old man 's pace. Eight speeds up slightly. He devotes time to retrieving invisible canes and opening... (full context)
Act 3
Reflection of American Society Theme Icon
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Theme Icon
...Four asks Eleven, Two, and Six why they changed their minds. Six says it seems the old man did not see the boy run downstairs nor could he have heard the scream. He... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
...in front of that building and that trains are loudest when going around curves. Therefore, the old man might have heard a high-pitched scream. Four also asks, what if the old man was... (full context)
Justice Theme Icon
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
...may have taken the murderer about 39 seconds (the same time they calculated it took the old man to move from his bedroom to the hallway door) to clean the fingerprints and get... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
...the time it took the kid to run down the stairs into consideration. Four says the old man may have been wrong about the time it took him to move to the door,... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Eight asks one more question about the old man downstairs. He wants to know who among the jurors lives in an apartment building. Eleven... (full context)
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Prejudice vs. Sympathies Theme Icon
Eight says that the old man downstairs swore it took him 15 seconds to move from his bedroom to the door,... (full context)