Twelve Angry Men

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Secret ballot Symbol Analysis

Secret ballot Symbol Icon
This play deals with the idealistic principles behind the American legal system and the ways in which real people must struggle to meet these principles and interpret them in their own ways. The legal system attempts to achieve a fair trail through the use of unbiased citizens on a jury. Most of the jurors are far from unbiased, though, and they struggle against a variety of prejudices while attempting to interpret the language of “reasonable doubt.” Clearly, the ideal of the American legal system is difficult to achieve in reality. But many of the characters, particularly those who have suffered from prejudice, such as Eleven and Five, feel the pull of these standards of justice. The vote by secret ballot that Eight proposes symbolizes an ideal principle of justice that is unbiased. The initial vote by hand, and the following discussion among the jurors, shows that many are swayed by the opinions of others, by the pressures of conformity, and by other concerns. A secret ballot vote is the best attempt at unbiased, idealized justice. Eight, a rational and sympathetic man, proposes this approach to gain a true assessment of the jurors’ opinions.

Secret ballot Quotes in Twelve Angry Men

The Twelve Angry Men quotes below all refer to the symbol of Secret ballot. 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 1 Quotes

Eight: I've got a proposition to make. I want to call for a vote. I want eleven men to vote by secret ballot. I'll abstain. If there are still eleven votes for guilty, I won't stand alone. We'll take in a guilty verdict right now.

Related Characters: Eight (speaker)
Related Symbols: Secret ballot
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Eight responds to Seven's concerns that he is holding out stubbornly against a majority that disagrees with him by proposing a vote by secret ballot. This gesture shows that Eight is trying to balance stubbornness and taking a stand. If everyone else strongly feels it is time to make a decision for "guilty," he won't prevent this. He is willing to surrender gracefully, unlike Three at the end of the play. This move is risky in terms of Eight's agenda, which is to consider the reasons for reasonable doubt that he has sensed exist in the case. The other men might very easily have stuck with their first decision and proclaimed the accused kid "guilty." In fact, we see that only one man changes his mind even after this next vote. 

Eight's call for the vote by secret ballot is a key moment in the play. When voting by secret ballot, the men are free to make their decision in isolation, without the influence and pressure of others. Certain jurors have already made it clear that they strongly dislike the accused kid or that they're impatient to go home. Eight has already taken abuse and frustration directed at him for delaying the proceedings. It would be difficult to stand up for what's right in this type of environment, in the face of this pressure from other men. Therefore, by voting by secret ballot, the men reach a more "pure" form of justice, "pure" because their decision is based on rational thought without peer pressure. 

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Secret ballot Symbol Timeline in Twelve Angry Men

The timeline below shows where the symbol Secret ballot appears in Twelve Angry Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Reflection of American Society Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Juror Eight proposes another vote by secret ballot of just the 11 who voted “guilty” last time—meaning everyone other than him. He says... (full context)
Act 2
Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Theme Icon
...who changed his vote. Juror Eleven interrupts, reminding them that this was a vote by secret ballot . Three says that “there are no secrets here” and that Juror Eight has come... (full context)