How does Reginald Rose establish and maintain a sense of tension in Twelve Angry Men
When analysing Rose’s techniques in “Twelve Angry Men”, one has to recognise the time period that this is play set in. It is 1950s New York, a time when many people from different cultural backgrounds are flooding into the country and settling in places such as New York. A lot of these migrants settle in slums and then racial tension starts to set in amongst different communities within a country. Therefore, one could say that these sorts of social issues will be apparent in possibly some of the jurors and indeed this becomes true as the play unfolds.
However, when we first see the jurors in the jury room they are mostly very reserved and polite towards each other. What first pops up however is the enclosed room. With harsh lighting and shabby decor, a very old and haggard image is created. There is also a window with a view of New York in Croydon and a clock ticking away (this will be very important later on as it will represent the time ticking away). With all these factors it is very likely that tensions could possibly build up and people will become irate, with the stuffy and hot conditions not helping, especially considering that there is a fan which doesn’t seem to be working.
In terms of the jurors, we know very little about them so there is not so much a sense of tension but a sense of anonymity. We do learn a bit about these jurors such as juror 3 who runs a messenger service called “The Beck and Call Company” and juror 4 who is a broker. Apart from this we do not learn much although it does seem that juror 7 is an avid baseball fan; “He shoots his hand forward and out to indicate the path of a ball,”, and we see that the 2nd juror is quite shy and meek in his speech and mannerisms.
It is only when we get to page 7 of act one where we finally get a momentum of tension. This is the moment where juror 8 decides to vote not guilty. Almost immediately we get annoyed reactions from the jurors in particular juror 10 who is rather vocal about his views: “Boy-oh-boy! There’s always one. ” Though it is not blatantly obvious, it is quite possible to say that this is going to be very vocal throughout this debate.
Indeed as we watch more of the play, we see different personalities amongst the jurors, with juror 7 being rather laid-back yet sarcastic, in contrast with someone like juror 4 who is polite, well-spoken and civil. Suddenly however, what was originally an attack to discredit juror 8’s doubts about the boy’s guilt suddenly turns into a personal issue. This is the case when on page 15 where juror 4 makes the claim that “slums are breeding grounds for criminals”. Juror 10 adds his own views, claiming, derogatorily, that people who “crawl outta those places” are real trash.
The 5th juror interjects and mentions the fact that he himself came from a slum and nurses “trash” in Harlem Hospital six nights a week. Whilst juror 1 ( the foreman) and juror 3 try to console the 5th juror, telling him that nothing personal was meant, the damage clearly has already been done as the 5th ha s already taken offence to juror 10’s comments. Indeed we already get a sense of bitter tension as the stage directions show that jurors 5 and 10 were out of their seats and arguing loudly. It is evident that these two could clash in the future.
Indeed, as the audience watches further into the play, we get a degree of tension that is consistently fluctuating, with the jurors becoming increasingly hot and being forced to take of their jackets with sweat patches being noticeable. This is a good, subtle effect because it leaves the reader anticipating a sudden break in the calm only to be left hanging on. An example of this is when juror 3 pulls out a knife identical to that of the murder weapon and although there is outcry and exasperation from some of the jurors, there is never really a full-blown escalation of tension, only slight undertones.
But the tension finally mounts from page 25 as the jurors cast a second vote. In a sudden turn of fortune, someone else decides to vote not guilty. The 10th and 7th jurors behave sanctimoniously and the 3rd juror becomes confrontational: “(to the 5th juror) so you change you vote. If this isn’t the most sickening… why don’t cha drop a quarter in this collection box? ” It is only later that bit is revealed that it is revealed that it was actually the 9th juror who changes his vote to guilty but nevertheless, the damage has already been done and there is now an obvious sense of tension between jurors 3 and 5.
As we continue to read on, the tension is kept hushed apart from juror 10’s snide comment: “Boy-oh-boy, that’s the biggest load of crap I ever. ” As we continue further into the play, we start to get an idea of who are allies and who are not enemies per se but do not share similar views. Indeed it becomes clear which people have the bigger voices (jurors 3, 7 and 10), who stays civil and clear headed (jurors 4, 8 and 11) and who blend into the background (jurors 1, 2 and 12).
As the play progresses, we see the jurors’ true colours starting to appear, with the three biggest voices (10, 3, and 7) becoming even more brash and irate to the extent that the other jurors are becoming irritated by their constant sarcasm and general ignorance. But on page 47, we start to see what seems set to become a key moment in the play. After testing the theory of how a witness couldn’t have seen the defendant, the 3rd juror becomes irate and starts ranting spuriously, causing the 8th juror to goad him: th juror: “Ever since we walked into this room you’ve been behaving like a self-appointed public avenger. ”
The 8th juror then calls him a sadist causing the 3rd juror to lunge wildly at him, leading to him having to be restrained by the 5th and 6th jurors. The 3rd juror then shouts loudly: “I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him! ” The 8th juror states that he doesn’t mean that which is indeed true. This is indeed one of the most important moments of the play because not only does it prove the 3rd juror wrong about his previous theories but it shows exactly what the 3rd juror, or for that matter, anyone, can be like.
The tension has exploded and sets the level at an all time high. Indeed as the curtain falls, and we switch to act 2, there is an extremely uncomfortable sense of tension as the jurors are embarrassed by what they have just witnessed. The tension does lower a bit but it is pretty much imminent that the next outburst is going to be big. There are more cracks starting to appear as more people start to vote guilty, making it 6-6. Obviously, this prompts people to make snide comments out of exasperation and rudeness.
The weather outside changes and there is a storm with rain pouring down. It is dark, giving the impression that the argument has been going on for some time. Indeed, it starts to cool down (the previous heat only adding to the tension) and almost simultaneously, people’s tempers and tensions start cooling down (on the surface at least) although there is the incessant loudmouth talk from juror 10. As the play moves on for a bit, there are not many signs of tension even when the 3rd juror suggests to jurors 4 and 10 to just vote for a hung jury.
Tension, however, starts to become apparent as the 7th juror is questioned by the 11th juror: 11th juror: “Look sonny, nobody around here is going to tell me what words I understand and what words I don’t (he points to 11th juror. ) Especially him because I’ll knock his Middle European head off. ” Indeed what we have witnessed here is juror 7’s racial prejudices against juror 11 which is probably the foundations for his wish that the defendant goes down (which is ironic considering that his hero, a baseball player called Modjewlski, is obviously European).
The tension switches over to the 8th and 4th jurors, who are arguing about the fact that the defendant couldn’t remember details due to what the 8th juror calls “great emotional stress”. He begins to calmly yet profusely question the 4th juror about what he did the previous nights. The 4th juror, despite not being under any emotional strain, becomes flustered and even starts to mop his sweating forehead (especially surprising considering the fact that he earlier claimed he never sweats). The play continues with tension being displayed amongst the jury, showing that there are alliances and differences amongst the jurors.
A slight increase in the tension occurs when the 3rd juror simulates a stabbing on the 8th juror. The other jurors are shocked and presumably scared (which is understandable considering that it is the 3rd juror holding the knife with the 8th juror at the receiving end). Further on in the play, we witness a scene where juror 7 decides to change his vote to not guilty. This infuriates the 11th juror, causing him to rise out of his seat and confront the 7th juror whilst the 7th juror simply says he has had enough without any foundations to back up his answer: 1th juror: (crossing to the 7th juror): He’s right.
That is not an answer. What kind of a man are you? You have voted guilty like everyone else because of some baseball tickets burning a hole in your pocket. Now you have changed your vote because you say you’re sick of all the talking here. ” The 11th juror manages to coax a rather feeble reason out of the 7th juror. The 11th juror leaves him whilst looking at him derisively. But not long after, we witness a scene which is a pinnacle moment in this play.
The 10th juror begins what is going to be a lengthy, racist rant using heavily derogatory terms against not just the people who live in slums but the jurors themselves, referring to them as “ignorant bastards. ” The 10th juror’s rant is so offensive that the disgusted jurors turn away from him, ignoring his hate-filled words. It is only when the 4th juror tells him to shut his “filthy mouth” that he finally keeps shut, prompting the other jurors to sit back at their seats. After this, the jurors, clearly uncomfortable, continue with the debate.
During these debates the jurors begin to see flaws in the evidence against the defendant and eventually it becomes 11-1 in favour of not guilty. It is only the 3rd juror who remains defiant. When asked to give his arguments, he starts to clutch at straws in desperation, going over arguments that have already been discredited. It is clear at the end of the play that juror 3 is bitter because of his estranged son. Hen the 8th and 4th jurors highlight the fact that the boy is not his son and should be allowed to live, the 3rd juror finally votes not guilty.
Indeed, Rose has used a very effective method in maintaining the tension in Twelve Angry Men. Instead of making the tension non-existent or thrusting a full-scale war under the audience’s noses, he has gone for a method which makes the tension gradually build, always making sure that when tension finally explodes; there is a huge extrusion of emotions. Even after this, he manages to make the tension drop and then build up again. Indeed, with the way the play ends, it makes it seem like the play was going to build up to the conclusion of what we men can be like and how we deal with the things in our own, sometimes selfish way.
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