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.
The play opens with the judge in a criminal court case summarizing for both audience and jury what is at stake in this case. His words spell out the basic principles of the American legal… (219 more words in this explanation)
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.
Early dialogue in the play helps to establish the diverse characters of the twelve jurors. These men differ in age, occupation, experience, background, religion, and (presumably) race. These differences result in a variety of types… (255 more words in this explanation)
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.
Unlike Ten's collective prejudice, Three displays a more specific and personal dislike of the accused kid. Eventually it becomes clear that Three has bad memories of his son and holds onto the accused kid's guilt… (217 more words in this explanation)
Eight: There were eleven votes for guilty. It's not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.
The jurors begin their deliberations by taking a vote to see where they stand. In this vote, eleven men vote "guilty" and one votes "not-guilty." Eight's logic, as he states it initially, points out the… (230 more words in this explanation)
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.
Eight's initial explanation of why he wants to discuss the accused kid's case does not include an analysis of evidence or the mention of reasonable doubt. This is a notable nuance of the play: Eight… (212 more words in this explanation)
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.
Ten presents a counter-point to Eight's sympathy for the accused kid. Just as Eight is more inclined to give time, consideration, and understanding to the kid because of his circumstances, Ten is less inclined to… (214 more words in this explanation)
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.
Ten's prejudiced statements against the group that the accused kid belongs to turn Nine against him. Nine sees Ten's statements as illogical because they assume that generalizations about groups of people are true. He questions… (217 more words in this explanation)
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....
Three's statements about the accused kid are interrupted by a story he shares about his relationship with his own son. Although this seems off-topic, the connection between these things in Three's mind is clear. Talking… (199 more words in this explanation)
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!
Juror Five, who is more youthful than the other jurors and who comes from a poor background, takes objection to Ten's ongoing prejudice against the group of people that includes the kid. This prejudice seems… (199 more words in this explanation)
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.]
Four offers the most rational arguments for the accused kid's guilt. He is reasonable and calm in his delivery and seems more interested in the logical steps of the case than Three or Ten, who… (215 more words in this explanation)
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.
Seven is one of the least engaged jurors; he seems to prioritize concluding the case and leaving, with little respect for the seriousness of the situation, as this passage shows. Despite his motives for rushing… (220 more words in this explanation)
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.
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… (218 more words in this explanation)
Eleven: Please. I would like to say something here. I have always thought that a man was entitled to have unpopular opinions in this country. This is the reason I came here. I wanted to have the right to disagree. In my own country, I am ashamed to say that.
The vote of a single "not guilty," even though Eight has abstained, causes a strong backlash. Some jurors angrily express a desire to know who changed his vote. Eleven points out the problem with this… (195 more words in this explanation)
Nine: [Pointing at Eight] This gentleman chose to stand alone against us. That's his right. It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone even if you believe in something very strongly. He left the verdict up to us. He gambled for support, and I gave it to him. I want to hear more. The vote is ten to two.
In the face of ongoing pressure to reveal who changed their vote to "not guilty," Nine reveals that it was he who changed his mind. It seems that he speaks up in order to protect… (176 more words in this explanation)
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.
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… (214 more words in this explanation)
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.
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… (223 more words in this explanation)
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.]
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… (213 more words in this explanation)
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?
Eight argues that the kid's overhead yell of "I'll kill you" should not be treated as evidence of intention. Many people would say such a thing in an impassioned moment and not follow through with… (219 more words in this explanation)
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.
Juror Eleven, the immigrant, continues to hold onto and remind others of the ideals of justice and the way the American legal system has been designed to uphold these ideals. One aspect of this design… (211 more words in this explanation)
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.]
Seven takes personal offense when Eleven says that he does not understand the term "reasonable doubt." Seven's reaction shows that he is offended specifically because Eleven criticized him. Because Eleven is an immigrant, Seven implies… (213 more words in this explanation)
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.
Five's experience living in an impoverished community where violence among his neighbors was commonplace turns out to provide key information in the case. Because he has seen switch knives used before, Five is able to… (210 more words in this explanation)
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.
Ten's vitriolic hatred of the group to which the accused kid belongs finally spills over into a cruel tirade in which it seems inconceivable to him that the other jurors are changing their minds and… (212 more words in this explanation)
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.
Juror Four maintains his rational thinking throughout the play. He switches sides with grace once he feels that "there is a reasonable doubt in my mind." In his measured thinking and unbiased rationality, Four embodies… (210 more words in this explanation)
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!
This poignant final confrontation between Three and Eight ends the play with all the jurors unanimously agreeing that the accused kid is "not guilty." This scene moves the struggle from one of logic, prejudice, and… (255 more words in this explanation)