Study Guide

12 Angry Men Themes

  • Versions of Reality

    Nothing makes you realize how differently people see reality than the inside of the jury room. In fact, one of the greatest things about 12 Angry Men is the way it slowly shows us that each of these twelve men has his own version of reality. In the beginning, only Juror #8 believes that the case is worth discussing, but over the course of a few hours, he convinces the other eleven men to change the way they see reality. Even some of the most basic "facts" of the case get twisted by different jurors' prejudice and bias, and by the end of the movie, we have to wonder just how "factual" the facts of the matter are.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. Which juror is the most prejudiced, and why?
    2. Which juror (apart from #8) is most willing to listen to the evidence in a rational way? Why?
    3. Which jurors' versions of reality are the toughest ones to change? How do they change?

    Chew on This

    In 12 Angry Men, we learn that quite often, juries are way more subjective than we'd like to think.

    12 Angry Men reminds us that despite different people's versions of reality, you can't argue with facts.

  • Race

    It would be nice to think that the race of the defendant in a murder trial wouldn't sway the jury's decision. But even in the present day, this is unfortunately not the case. Race still has a huge impact on how juries will vote on certain crimes. So you can imagine how much race would matter back in the 1950s when you've got an entire room full of angry white men. You're bound to get one or two people who want a Guilty verdict just because the defendant isn't white—and that's totally what happens in 12 Angry Men.

    Luckily, you might also get a guy who recognizes his own prejudices and tries to overcome them for the sake of justice. Pssst. We're talking about Juror #8 here.

    Questions About Race

    1. Which juror is the most blatantly racist? Why?
    2. Who calls another juror "ignorant" for being racist? Why?
    3. Do you think this movie gives an accurate idea of what all-white juries would think of non-whites in 1957? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In 12 Angry Men, we learn that race is only as important as we make it.

    12 Angry Men reminds us that at its heart, racism is just a way of taking limited info and insisting that you know how everything works because of it.

  • Duty

    It's fair to say that there's a bit of duty involved in deciding whether or not to send an 18-year-old kid to the electric chair. And most of the 12 Angry Men seem to take this duty seriously. (We can't say this about Juror #7, though, who wants to vote for whatever verdict is most likely to get him out of the jury room early enough that he can make it to a baseball game in time.)

    It's hard to have a moral argument with someone who simply doesn't care about whether a person lives or dies, but luckily, other men in the room do feel a sense of duty and are able to help the jury come to a just decision, with or without people like #7. We've said it before, and we'll say it again—this is why you have twelve jurors instead of one.

    Questions About Duty

    1. Which character has the strongest sense of duty, and why?
    2. Which character is the first to join Juror #8 in the "Not Guilty" verdict? Why?
    3. Who gives Juror #7 a big speech about duty after he reveals his motives for wanting to make as quick a verdict as possible? How does #7 respond to the speech?

    Chew on This

    In 12 Angry Men, we see that if you give it enough time, duty will triumph over prejudice. That's why it's important not to make hasty decisions.

    12 Angry Men reminds us that even though we like to talk about duty, a lot of major decisions get made for the pettiest possible reasons.

  • Old Age

    Of the twelve angry men in this movie, some are definitely older than others, and this age gap colors some of the decisions they make. But even more importantly, one of the key witnesses in the murder trial is an old man who may be making stuff up just to feel important. The only character who really understands the witness' motives is the oldest man on the jury, a man who understands what it's like to be old and to have nobody care about you.

    In this sense, 12 Angry Men gives us a nice lesson in empathy for people whose experiences we might not usually think about. It also shows one more way in which the facts aren't quite as clear-cut as they originally seemed.

    Questions About Old Age

    1. Do you think that the old witness (the elderly man) actually made up his testimony? Why or why not?
    2. How does Juror #8 figure out whether the old man was able to see the defendant running away from his apartment building after the murder? Is it a reliable way of figuring things out?
    3. Which character understands the elderly witness the best? What insight does he give us into the old man's mind?
    4. Is there anything about Juror #9's character or outlook that surprises you? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In 12 Angry Men, we learn that sometimes, old people can do unthinkable things just to get people to notice them.

    12 Angry Men reminds us that old people are just as capable (or probably more capable) of being good jurors than young ones.

  • Justice and Judgment

    It's probably not surprising that justice and judgment are major themes in a movie that takes place entirely in a jury room. In fact, you could say that the whole story of 12 Angry Men revolves around the issue of how people determine guilt and innocence in a democratic society. Sure, democracy can be really messy and really annoying, but this movie is definitely optimistic about the ability for people to come together and make the right decision, even if they're not all making it for the right reasons.

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. Do you think that this movie gives a realistic depiction of how one person's sense of justice can sway a room full of naysayers, or do you think it's too optimistic? Why?
    2. Which jurors have the weakest sense of justice, and why?
    3. How would you rank Juror #4's sense of justice? Is his cold rationality a good thing or bad thing in this movie? Why?
    4. What would you say is the "turning point" of this movie? At what exact point does the jury start leaning toward a Not Guilty verdict? Why?

    Chew on This

    In 12 Angry Men, we learn that different people can have very different definitions of justice.

    12 Angry Men shows us that it's often the people with the most rigid sense of justice who are the most prejudiced.