Twelve Angry Men


Reginald Rose

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Twelve Angry Men Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Reginald Rose

Reginald Rose was born in 1920 in Manhattan and spent his youth, high school, college years, and adult life in New York City. He attended City College (now incorporated into the City University of New York). After college, he served in the US Army during World War II. He rose to the rank of first lieutenant, while serving from 1942 to 1946. Rose married Barbara Langbart in 1943. The couple had four children. Rose achieved literary success as an adult when he sold his first teleplay Bus to Nowhere to CBS in 1950. His 1954 teleplay Twelve Angry Men established his name in the literary world, and is his most famous work. He received an Emmy for the play, which was later adapted into an Oscar nominated feature-length film, as well as into the script for a live stage version. Rose’s other works include: the television show The Defenders (1961), winner of two Emmy awards for dramatic screenwriting; the teleplay The Incredible World of Horace Ford (the basis for an 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone); the screenplay of Crime In The Streets (1956); and films with British producer Euan Lloyd, including The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves, Who Dares To Win, and Wild Geese II. In 1963 he got remarried, to a woman named Ellen McLaughlin, with whom he had two children. He died in 2002 from heart failure.
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Historical Context of Twelve Angry Men

Reginald Rose’s play does not draw its concept from any known historical case. His work was probably influenced by popular genres and ideas of the time, including the predominant Film Noir genre that focused on crime and detective dramas and demonstrated a certain cynicism about human nature. Because Rose was originally writing for television, he would have been influenced by the historical event of increasing television popularity and access. The literary movement of Late Modernism was influenced by the suffering of World War II, and by changing conceptions of what art ought to strive to accomplish. Many artists were losing interest in producing “art for art’s sake” (Modernism) and were becoming involved in political and social issues through the lens of art. As a veteran of the war, Rose would have had as much interest as anyone in responding to the war with his art. His script for Twelve Angry Men demonstrates the deep problems with human nature and society, and yet restores faith in the American legal system as an attempt at achieving justice.

Other Books Related to Twelve Angry Men

Reginald Rose’s late modernist work demonstrates many characteristics of this time period in literature. Modernism was shaped by the cultural shift of industrialization and the horrors of large-scale world wars. Artists in many different genres felt that the old rules and forms were no longer appropriate to express the rapidly changing modern world. Modernist works show innovations of form and content, and self-consciousness for the processes of art itself. Late modernist works show a shift to the post-modernist ideas of political and social critique that can be achieved in art. Twelve Angry Men demonstrates innovative and contemporary language in its dialogue paired with a concern for the internal lives of human beings and the impacts these internal lives have on society and culture. Contemporary late modernist works that share characteristics with Twelve Angry Men include: Waiting for Godot (1949) by playwright Samuel Beckett; a series of successful plays by poet T. S. Eliot including The Family Reunion(1939),The Cocktail Party(1949),The Confidential Clerk, (1953) andThe Elder Statesman(1958); and Briggflatts (1966) by poet Basil Bunting. The screenplay and stage play of Twelve Angry Men show an interesting reaction to the influence of popular television and film on literature. In many ways, the play is best placed in conversation with other crime dramas. The movie version exhibits qualities of the Film Noir style popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Other Film Noir crime dramas that may have influenced Twelve Angry Men include: The Big Sleep (1946), The Big Heat (1953), The Set-Up (1949), Night and the City (1950), and Gun Crazy (1950).
Key Facts about Twelve Angry Men
  • Full Title: Twelve Angry Men
  • When Written: 1954 (teleplay); 1955 (theatrical play)
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1955
  • Literary Period: Late Modernism
  • Genre: Drama
  • Setting: A jury room, the present
  • Climax: Juror Eight persuades all the other jurors except Three to vote “not guilty.” Three confronts Eight with a knife in a silent power play. The climax is resolved as Three surrenders and votes “not guilty.”
  • Antagonist: Prejudice and bias exhibited primarily in the characters Three and Ten

Extra Credit for Twelve Angry Men

Twelve Angry Jurors. Contemporary productions of Reginald Rose’s play often change the title to “Twelve Angry Jurors” to allow for gender-neutral casting. The original play does not address prejudices and biases related to sexism, but the play intentionally strives for timelessness by instructing that the jurors be dressed and cast to belong in “the present.”

Adaptations for the big screen. The teleplay was revised by Rose for a 1957 movie that received three Academy Award nominations. A 1997 movie version was also released, demonstrating the story’s timelessness.