The Importance Of Justice In Relations To Past Experiences
In Reginald Rose’s play entitled “12 Angry Men”, a story is developed around the actions of a jury on a murder trial, which deals with many concepts important to one’s self and one’s decisions. The most important of these concepts is a personal sense of justice, which is outlined by twelve different jurors all with their own definition of the word, and their experiences which have shaped the said definition. This is exemplified through the actions of Juror Number 3 and 5 most specifically, as their histories and experiences are most intricately developed by Mr. Rose. The importance of justice to a particular person is directly related to their past experiences as demonstrated through the individual jurors’ reactions to the potential treatment of the accused.
Juror Number 3’s distain for the accused combined with his harsh definition of justice can be rooted from his difficult past and experiences with adolescents. It is noted within the play that Juror 3’s hatred towards rebellious young men is very likely a result of the way his son treated him when he says: “I’ve got a kid…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…” (8). This suggests that at a different time Number 3 may have been more compassionate and understanding with teenagers, but the incidents that occurred between him and his son eliminated this feeling completely. Juror 3 ‘s sense of justice seems to come from a much more physical sense of the word, as the way he speaks of his son as well as the way he speaks during normal conversation in the play demonstrates a very violent and abrasive behaviour: “I’ve got a mind to walk around this table and belt him one”(14). He relies less on discussion and debate to win him arguments and more on physical intimidation, and this seeps through in the way in which he hopes for the trial to be dealt with (the accused being executed, despite an abundance of contradictory evidence to the belief that he is guilty). Juror 3 also has very little trust, towards the accused and even towards his fellow jurors, and this is once again thought to be a demonstration of his past: “I’ve seen all kinds of dishonesty in my day” (20). Evidently Juror 3 takes on an ideology that is more focused on “guilty until proven innocent”, and believes many people to be dishonest and untrustworthy without considering who they are or their backgrounds, shaping his disgust towards the accused. Juror 5’s history and experience in the slums is exhibited through his compassionate and empathetic behaviour.
Within the play Juror 5 demonstrates and discusses the fact that he can relate to the accused’s situation based on his past experiences with a similar living environment: “I’ve lived in a slum all my life”(8). He further goes on to speak in a way that explains the way he once lived still resides in his personality to some degree (as one’s history often does): “I used to play in a backyard that was filled with garbage. Maybe it still smells on me” (8). While Juror 5 is saying that a part of him is still that child living in the slums, he is not necessarily saying that he is ashamed of it. This in itself conveys to his peers his belief that the accused should not be seen as an untrustworthy person or less deserving of their support just as default because of his circumstances. While Juror 5 discusses his past, he also admits that there are parts of such a history that one would wish to block out: (referring to seeing knife fights) “In my back yard, on my stoop, in the vacant lot across the street, too many of them…I guess you try to forgot those things” (25). While less noticeable, this may also be a reference to his connection with the accused on a different level, as they both appear to be trying to block out traumatic events on some level; the boy having trouble remembering certain events surrounding his father’s death and Juror 5 with his memory of the knife fights from his childhood. All of these factors combine to create a much more compassionate and understanding definition of justice, which he portrays through his discussions and actions with the other jurors.
While these two Juror’s beliefs greatly contrast each other, they both hold quite true to one idea; past experiences shape current beliefs and ideals. Juror 5’s traumatic past of neglect helps him develop an empathetic and compassionate sense of justice, which additionally helps him in relating to the accused. Juror 3’s past of abuse from his adolescent son and his violent behaviour (wherever that my stem from) creates an untrusting and abrasive sense of justice, which he also applies to the trial. Though it is demonstrated in many different ideas and character plots throughout the story, it is obvious that the importance of justice to a particular person is directly related to their past experiences as demonstrated through the individual jurors’ reactions to the potential treatment of the accused. Third point of defense: The Jurors without an outlined history demonstrate that even further down the road in one’s life one’s idea of justice may still be developing as shown by their abilities to influence one another during the trial.
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