Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Reginald Rose, Twelve Angry Men (1954)

Reginald Rose wrote the television drama Twelve Angry Men (1954) from being inspired by his experience serving on a jury.  He also sought to protest against what he regarded as an abuse of the American legal system during the early 1950s (the McCarthyist era) and to warn Americans about the vulnerabilities of the jury system and show how they can be overcome.  Rose valued American democratic institutions and practices that he believed were under threat by negative social forces and historical trends.  Worried in particular about the vulnerabilities in American legal safeguards and the jury system, he wished to see good men (those with a profound sense of civic duty, the capacity for reason, and compassion) set them right and steer them towards upholding justice.

Rose was particularly concerned about the impact of prejudice and bigotry on the legal process, regarding them as preventing democratic and legal institutions from fulfilling the ideals upon which they were founded.  He also worried that a lack of a sense of civic duty among many native-born Americans posed a similar threat.  However, he ended the teleplay on an optimistic note.  He showed how jurors can be won over by arguments that are based on reason and that show compassion, so that the legal safeguards can operate to protect the vulnerable, especially the safeguard that the burden of proof is on the prosecution to make a case to a jury that is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. 

While making its case for the value of the jury system and legal safeguards, the teleplay presents an attitude consistent with liberal campaigns for law reform in the 1950s.  It depicts criminals as victims of inequality, deprivation, and abuse and characterises slums as breeding grounds for anti-social behaviour.  Slums produce socialising forces that can impact negatively on many, but not all, of the disadvantaged people who reside in them.  The text also invites its audience to critically reconsider the death penalty and the risks it presents to an irreversible miscarriage of justice. 

However, one of the most inspiring dimensions of the text is its celebration of the ability of an individual to maintain a contrary opinion in the face of overwhelming opposition.  Facing this challenging circumstance requires an ability to stand by one’s reasoning even if everyone else argues otherwise.  Importantly, the ability of one juror to do this was shown to be the catalyst for justice.

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Twelve Angry Men meaning, Twelve Angry Men themes, Twelve Angry Men analysis, Twelve Angry Men notes