Summary of Act One (Part 1)
The play is embeded in a New York City Law court jury space in 1957. The play opens to the empty jury room, and the Judge’s voice is heard, providing a set of last guidelines to the jurors. We find out that this is a murder case and that, if condemned, the necessary sentence for the accused is the death sentence. After these guidelines, the jurors get in. These are 2nd-12th Juror and the Supervisor.
The guys file in and choose to take a short break before deliberating. They talk casually and we start to satisfy a few of the jurors. They complain that the space is hot and without air-conditioning; even the fan does not work. All who talk about the case appear flippant about the situation, and all presume the obvious guilt of the defendant, who we discover has actually been implicated of killing his father. Eventually, the twelve sit down and a vote is taken. All of the jurors vote “guilty,” except for the 8th Juror, who votes “not guilty,” which, due to the requirement of a consentaneous jury, forces them to talk about the case.
The other jurors react aggressively to his dissenting vote, trying to rapidly talk him out of it, however 8th Juror stays convinced that he is “not sure” whether the boy is guilty and feels that they owe it to him to talk about the case for at least an hour, simply to make sure. He mentions the boy’s troubled training, with his mother dead and his daddy jailed. Jurors try to argue with him, most significantly 10th Juror, who makes a particularly racist argument versus the defendant, saying that “they’re born liars.” 12th Juror isn’t even taking note, doodling an advertisement idea for his marketing campaign.
Ultimately, they choose to go around the table, describing why they think the young boy to be guilty, in hopes of convincing 8th Juror.
Through this conversation we learn the following realities about the case: an old man living beneath the boy and his father affirmed that he heard upstairs a battle, the kid shouting, “I’m gon na eliminate you,” a body striking the ground, and after that he saw the kid diminishing the stairs. The kid claimed he had actually been at the motion pictures while his dad was murdered, but could not remember the name of the movies or who remained in them. A woman living throughout the street testified that she saw the boy eliminate his daddy through the windows of a passing elevated train. The boy had, that night, had an argument with his daddy, which resulted in the boy’s daddy striking him two times. Finally, the kid has a substantial list of prior offenses, including trying to slash another teenager with a knife.
3rd Juror makes a speech about how this kid is simply another example of “how kids are nowadays.” He discusses his own boy, with whom he had a rough relationship, and to whom he hasn’t spoken in two years, after a battle in which his kid struck him. 10th Juror and fifth Juror enter an argument over 10th Juror’s citing the young boy’s shanty town background as proof for his being “trash.” 5th Juror is outraged by this, having actually matured in a shanty town himself.
8th Juror is now made to stand and protect his “not guilty” elect the young boy. He mentions that he’s not exactly sure whether the young boy did it, however he was disappointed with the task of the defense council, and he was not sure of the two eyewitnesses. This leads into a discussion about the knife. Fourth Juror explains that, on the night of the murder, the young boy purchased an uniquely carved switchblade knife identical to the one used in the murder. The boy claims that he lost it that night, before coming home to find his daddy dead. 4th Juror provides the death weapon, the “just one of its kind;” 8th Juror surprises the others by presenting an identical knife he had bought in a pawn store two blocks from where the kid lived a couple of nights prior, shattering the claim that the knife was distinct and recognizable. An argument breaks out among the jurors as to the brand-new doubt; many are just upset that they’re still arguing and wish to simply state him guilty and go house.
8th Juror makes a proposal that the other eleven of them might vote, and if all of them voted “not guilty,” he would not stand alone and would support their guilty verdict. They accept this and vote by secret tally. The vote is 10 “guilty” votes and 1 “not guilty” vote, therefore the deliberation continues.
— Analysis of Act One (Part 1)– Twelve Angry Guys remains in lots of ways a love letter to the American legal justice system. We find here eleven men, swayed to conclusions by prejudices, past experience, and short-sightedness, challenged by one man who holds himself and his peers to a higher requirement of justice, requiring that this marginalized member of society be provided his due process. We see the jurors struggle between the two, seemingly clashing, functions of a jury, to punish the guilty and to protect the innocent. It shows, nevertheless, that the reasoning of the American trial-by-jury system does work.
On another level, the play is about America and its makeup as a melting pot of different cultures, concepts, beliefs, and temperaments. This jury runs the range from a German immigrant watchmaker, 11th Juror, to a presumably wealthy broker, 4th Juror, to a male nurse at a Harlem healthcare facility, who matured in the run-down neighborhoods, 5th Juror. These men represent the incredible richness of diversity in America and the different challenges that it presents. This clash ends up being a major part of the dispute within the play; Rose externalizes this dispute by making the room hot, which both represents and contributes to their hot character. Just as much as these males are attempting to come up with a verdict, they are finding out how to interact and cooperate towards a common goal. Initially, this seems almost difficult, but they gradually are able to interact.
Throughout the play, we see a variety of rhetorical techniques, utilized by all of the jury members to communicate their belief. 8th juror attract their sense of pathos and pity by stating “this kid’s been subjugated all his life … He’s had a quite horrible sixteen years. I think perhaps we owe him a couple of words. That’s all.” While this has absolutely nothing to do with the case, he wishes to appeal to their humankind in order to get them to provide him a chance in these deliberations. A lot of the jurors use logo designs, reasoning and thinking, to set out the proof in a reasonable and concrete way to encourage him. An example is when 4th Juror lays out all of the proof of the knife to persuade 8th Juror with 7, linear, accurate points. The reader and audience is implied to connect a sense of values, reliability or proficiency, to 8th Juror, as he is the only one who does not, at first, seem to be clouded by ignorance, bigotry, disinterest, or any other particular that may cloud judgment.
The play is extremely interesting in its structure since we see none of the trial or occasions leading up to the trial. At its opening, we just get a set of jury instructions from the judge, as if we the reader and audience are the ones ready to make a judgment. We learn the facts of the case in piecemeal from the jury members, as they discuss the evidence. While the surface area of the play is clearly about the trial and coming to a decision, getting rid of these outdoors remarkable impacts moves the focus to the jurors themselves and their own procedure of discovery. The play ends up being just as much about their discovering to handle each other and understand themselves as it has to do with their pertaining to a verdict.
Furthermore, the play provides us with almost no specifics. At no point in the script are any names used, consisting of for the jurors, the offenders, or the witnesses. This is an extremely conspicuous choice that permits each character to work as part of this larger allegory for the American society. It gives the sense that the jurors could be you, the individual sitting beside you, or the person down the street; these are everyday Americans. While the setting is marked in the stage directions for the 2004 production as New York City, 1957 (which is especially the date and setting of the classic Sidney Lumet movie adjustment), there are nearly no aspects of this play that really require it in that setting, other than possibly that all of the jurors are guys, and such small information as the fact that the defendant declared to have actually gone to a “double feature” motion picture, which one would no longer find at a theater.