The jury of Twelve Angry Men begins its deliberations with a vote of 11-1 in favor of guilty and ends 12-0 in favor of not guilty. From this, we might conclude that the jury started with false certainty and deliberated until they uncovered the certain truth. However, the jury is never able to establish whether or not the defendant is innocent. Rather than uncovering certainty, their deliberations uncover doubt—enough doubt that they do not feel that the evidence is enough to convict the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In fact, the play and the jury deliberations might be described as not just the jury’s journey from certainty to doubt in terms of the case, but also of the jury’s shift from looking at the world with certainty – certainty about what is true and certainty about the correctness of one’s own views – to taking a more skeptical view, a more doubtful view, of facts presented as truth and of the rightness of one’s own perspective.
Only Juror Eight has any doubt about the boy’s guilt after the first vote. The rest think much like Juror Twelve: “After six days, he doesn’t know. In six days I could learn calculus. This is A, B, C.” These jurors want certainty, because doubt is uncomfortable and scary, and might make them miss Christmas dinner. Doubt doesn’t get you answers or closure. As one jury member puts it to Juror Eight: "Suppose you talk us outta this and the kid really did knife his father?" Yet, as the jurors delve into their deliberations, evidence that seemed solid comes into question, and we hear less about how the jurors want to go home quickly.
Once they are all taking the evidence seriously, prompted by Juror Eight, the jurors have to start to worry about the unreliability of the witnesses, like the old man and the woman across the tracks. For Juror Three, who is certain of the defendant’s guilt, the eyewitnesses are infallible, even after doubt is raised over whether the old man downstairs or the woman across the El tracks could possibly have seen and heard what they said they did. For jurors like Juror Five, though, the old man’s testimony leaves them in a muddle—while Juror Five is not convinced that the old man lied, he has to acknowledge that there is doubt about whether the old man heard and saw what he said he did, and Juror Five is the third one to change his vote. Although the slow movement of jurors to the side of “not guilty” may seem like steady progress towards greater certainty in light of consideration of the evidence, the jurors who change their minds do not express certainty in their new vote either.
Interestingly, as the jurors begin to face and admit to the many reasonable doubts about the case, their attitudes towards each other changes as well. At first, the jurors make blanket moral judgments about each other and whole groups of people. Their certainty about the truth of their own perspectives makes them hard and unkind to each other. Yet as they admit to doubts about the case, it seems almost as if those doubts cause them to soften their stances, to admit that their initial perceptions might have been wrong about more than just the case. The principles each juror felt certain about going into the case are shaken not only by the arguing and the evidence, but because the jurors are forced to face the doubts that they have hidden behind their own biases, prejudices, and irrationalities. As the jurors come to be more comfortable in admitting doubt, they cease to treat other quite as much like categories or types and treat each other, instead, as individual people.
Certainty and Doubt ThemeTracker
Certainty and Doubt Quotes in Twelve Angry Men
Murder in the first degree—premeditated homicide—is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts. You've heard a long and complex case, gentlemen, and it is now your duty to sit down to try and separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. If there is a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused . . . then you must declare him not guilty. If, however, there is no reasonable doubt, then he must be found guilty. Whichever way you decide, the verdict must be unanimous. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. You are faced with a grave responsibility. Thank you, gentlemen.
Three: I never saw a guiltier man in my life... You sat right in court and heard the same thing I did. The man's a dangerous killer. You could see it.
Eight: He's nineteen years old.
Nine: (to Ten very slowly). I don't know that. What a terrible thing for a man to believe! Since when is dishonesty a group characteristic? You have no monopoly on the truth.
Four: Take a look at that knife. It's a very strange knife. I've never seen one like it before in my life and neither had the storekeeper who sold it to him.
[Eight reaches casually into his pocket and withdraws an object. No one notices this. He stands up quietly.]
Four: Aren't you trying to make us accept a pretty incredible coincidence?
Eight: I'm not trying to make anyone accept it. I'm just saying it's possible.
Three: (shouting). And I'm saying it's not possible.
[Eight swiftly flicks open the blade of a switch knife and jams it into the table next to the first one. They are exactly alike. There are several gasps and everyone stares at the knife. There is a long silence.]
Seven: Now wait a second. What are you, the guy's lawyer? Listen, there are still eleven of us who think he's guilty. You're alone. What do you think you're gonna accomplish? If you want to be stubborn and hang this jury, he'll be tried again and found guilty, sure as he's born.
Eight: You're probably right.
Seven: So what are you gonna do about it? We can be here all night.
Nine: It's only one night. A man may die.
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.
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.
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.]
Five: …Anyone who’s ever used a switch knife would never have stabbed downward. You don’t handle a switch knife that way. You use it underhanded. [Illustrates.]
Eight: Then he couldn’t have made the kind of wound that killed his father.
Five: I suppose it’s conceivable that he could have made the wound, but it’s not likely, not if he had any experience with switch knives, and we know that the kid had a lot of experience with switch knives.
Three: …You made all the arguments. You can’t turn now. A guilty man’s going to be walking the streets. A murderer! He’s got to die! Stay with me!...
Four: I’m sorry. I’m convinced. I don’t think I’m wrong often, but I guess I was this once. There is a reasonable doubt in my mind.
Eight: [to Three] They’re waiting. [Three sees that he is alone. He moves to table and pulls switch knife out of table and walks over to Eight with it. Three is holding knife in approved knife-fighter fashion. Three looks long and hard at juror Eight and weaves a bit from side to side as he holds knife with point of it in direction of Eight’s belly. Eight speaks quietly, firmly.] Not guilty. [Three turns knife around and Eight takes it by handle. Eight closes knife and puts it away.]
Three: Not guilty!