Being the only person to maintain a position opposed by everyone else is a lonely place to occupy. Yet that is the position of the lone juror in 12 Angry Men to believe in the innocence of the defendant. All other members of the jury are prepared to convict the man, and they grow increasingly angry at his refusal to agree with the unanimous verdict needed for a conviction. So what is behind his determination to plead the young man’s innocence? How is he able to use this determination to save a life that the eleven other jurors are ready to discard? The events of 12 Angry Men make for a dramatic stage and cinematic experience, but more importantly have a lot to teach us about the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Failure to do so could cost you personally, as well as being a disaster for other people.
Firstly, Juror 8 believes in justice. He feels strongly that it would be utterly wrong to press for a conviction. In his opinion, the young man is innocent and should not be sacrificed for expediency. Perhaps he can imagine how it would feel to be in that position, whereas the others can not. Thus, he is prepared to spend as long as it takes to persuade the other jurors to change their mind. He also wants to save an innocent man from the gallows. A wrongful conviction would play on his conscience. How could he live with himself if he were part of sending a man to his undeserved death?
To some extent, this character illustrates the position of the outsider, who does not fit in, and who will not abandon his convictions in order to seek popularity. Many people would far more easily convince themselves to make the evidence fit the crime, rather than examining the evidence to see how it stands up. In the face of continued pressure from his fellow jurors, he does not waver and persists (and succeeds) in persuading them, one by one, that the defendant is innocent of all charges. It’s a remarkable achievement, and one that shows the strength of the character and how well it is written.
He is also able to question where the others are easily convinced by the evidence. What’s more, he maintains this position even though it angers his fellows, whereas a weaker man would give in for the sake of the common good or in order to bring the matter to a swift conclusion and spare them the long deliberations to reach a verdict. But could stubbornness also play a part? He could so easily have acceded to the wishes of the majority, all of whom were against him and equally convinced of the man’s guilt. Yet slowly he is able to bring them round, one by one, to his thinking. Such persistence surely requires a strong degree of stubbornness that can stand up against the wish of the others to bring the matter to a swift conclusion.