The play shows a variety of types of prejudice and the ways that it can affect those who hold those prejudices. At the same time, it also shows how the juror’s sympathies – usually considered a positive trait – can impact a person’s rationality or sense of justice. Most obviously, the play shows how the prejudices of the jurors affect their actions in the jury room. Racial or cultural prejudice plays a significant role in the deliberations, as many of the jurors, in particular Juror Ten, uses the term “them” to refer to the defendant and the community to which he belongs. (The actual race of the defendant is never mentioned, making the point that there are many racial prejudices at constant play in the world and the United States). Juror Three, meanwhile, is prejudiced against the young male defendant, it is suggested, because he is estranged from his own son and therefore has a negative view of all young men. Juror Eight, in contrast, sympathizes with the young man’s poor upbringing, and his initial vote of not guilty is based more on this sympathy than on a deep-seated principle about justice.
While showing the prejudices of many in American society towards “outsider” groups, the play also shows how the jurors are prejudiced against each other within the jury room itself. They judge each other based on how they look, what they say, how much money they have or make, or even based on the prejudices they reveal during deliberations. This prejudice is immediately noticeable when Juror Three says of Juror Four, “Ask him to hire you. He’s rich. Look at that suit!” in the opening conversation. As the jurors sift through the evidence more deeply, some retain their prejudices and stand firm in their first impressions. However, as they get to know each other and realize the ways in which the evidence may not add up, it is also notable how they are forced – at least within that jury room – to temporarily see past their prejudices. As this happens, the play shows how prejudice can make a person blind to the full complexity of the world, while also suggesting that it need not be this way.
Prejudice vs. Sympathies ThemeTracker
Prejudice vs. Sympathies Quotes in Twelve Angry Men
Ten: It's tough to figure, isn't it? A kid kills his father. Bing! Just like that. Well, it's the element. They let the kids run wild. Maybe it serves ‘em right.
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.
Eight: I don't want to change your mind.... I want to talk for a while. Look – this boy's been kicked around all his life. You know – living in a slum – his mother dead since he was nine. That's not a very good head start. He's a tough, angry kid. You know why slum kids get that way? Because we knock 'em on the head once a day, every day. I think maybe we owe him a few words. That's all.
Ten: I don't mind telling you this, mister. We don't owe the kid a thing. He got a fair trial, didn't he? You know what that trial cost? He's lucky he got it. Look, we're all grownups here. You're not going to tell us that we're supposed to believe him, knowing what he is. I've lived among 'em all my life. You can't believe a word they say. You know that.
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.
Three: You’re right. It's the kids. The way they are—you know? They don't listen. I've got a kid. When he was eight years old, he ran away from a fight. I saw him. I was so ashamed. I told him right out, "I'm gonna make a man out of you or I'm gonna bust you up into little pieces trying." When he was fifteen he hit me in the face. He's big, you know. I haven't seen him in three years. Rotten kid! You work your heart out....
Five: I've lived in a slum all my life.
Ten: Oh, now wait a second!
Five: I used to play in a back yard that was filled with garbage. Maybe it still smells on me.
Foreman: Now let's be reasonable. There's nothing personal.
[Five stands up.]
Five: There is something personal!
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.]
Eight: You want to see this boy die because you personally want it—not because of the facts.
Three: Shut up!
[He lunges at Eight, but is caught by two of the jurors and held. He struggles as Eight watches calmly.]
Three: Let me go. I'll kill him. I’ll kill him!
Eight: You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?
Eleven: We have a responsibility. This is a remarkable thing about democracy. That we are...ummmm... what is the word...Ah, notified! That we are notified by mail to come down to this place and decide on the guilt or innocence of a man we have not known before. We have nothing to gain or lose by our verdict. This is one of the reasons why we are strong. We should not make it a personal thing.
Eleven: I beg your pardon, but maybe you don’t understand the term, “reasonable doubt.”
Seven: [angrily] What do you mean, I don’t understand it? Who do you think you are to talk to me like that? [To all] How do you like this guy? He comes over here running for his life, and before he can even take a big breath he’s telling us how to run the show. The arrogance of him!
Four: No one here is asking where anyone came from.
Seven: I was born right here.
Four: Or where your father came from. [Looks at Seven, who looks away.]
Ten: …You know, they get drunk, and bang, someone’s lying in the gutter. Nobody’s blaming them. That’s how they are. You know what I mean? Violent!…Most of them, it’s like they have no feelings…They’re no good. There’s not one of ‘em who’s any good. We better watch out. Take it from me.
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!