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Tension In The Play Twelve Angry Men English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1328 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In ‘Twelve Angry Men’ Rose sustains a tone tension throughout the play, the aim of this essay is to highlight and explain the different techniques Rose uses. Rose immediately establishes suspense and tension in the play at the very beginning of act 1, the speech that the judge makes provides a sense of severity and creates a more serious approach the case. This ambience creates tension, anxiety and anticipation amongst the jurors.

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Tension is also built early in the play with the background and setting of the play. The play is set in New York in the summer of 1957. The jurors are placed in a small, hot, claustrophobic and stuffy room. Throughout the play, many of the jurors comment on the weather. The seventh juror said: “You know something? I called up for the weather. This is the hottest day of the year”. The weather has different and contrasting effects on the jurors. Some get agitated and very irritable and some are exhausted and fatigued. This clash of moods creates great tension in the play from the very start. During the play the weather changes and matches the aura, tone and atmosphere of the jury room, a storm breaks out this a great use of pathetic fallacy.

The entire play, unusually, takes place in a single room, the jury room, and none of the jurors are able to leave until they have reached a unanimous decision. “…in the silence the sound is heard of the door being locked”. The play has so few props it leaves the jury room plain, basic and bland which give the impression that the room is very small. Twelve men are confined in a tiny room, which is bound to cause disagreement and conflict. Rose also maintains tension by having the majority of the play within a single act; this stops the story from breaking up and preserves the tone of the room.

However, Rose does not constantly sustain a high level of tension. Tension is broken down, dispersed and diffused through various tactics. There would be an abrupt change to the ordinary style to relieve tension, some-one would offer a cough drop or use the toilet. For example, directly of a quarrel between the eighth and third juror they re-enact the stabbing, bringing tension down, then the second juror cried “look out” exploding and amplifying the tension for a split second before the eighth lowers the knife saying “no-ones hurt” again diffusing the tension.

The anonymity of the jurors aids Rose in generating tension it creates a slight professional relationship and makes no allowance for friendliness.

Tension throughout the play is caused by conflicting personalities and agendas. Each juror has there own background, history, agenda and characteristics allowing each of them to have their own outlook on the case. Certain pieces of information are revealed through emotional ejaculation and background conversations. For example, the seventh juror wants the case to finish because he has tickets to a baseball game. “This better be fast. I got tickets to a ball game tonight”. This shows that he values a baseball game more than someone’s life. He has a weak and fickle character as he follows the crowd and cannot think for himself. Nevertheless, he does affect tension with his inappropriate jokes. “oh that’s beautiful the fan doesn’t work, someone take a letter to the mayor ‘dear stingy…”. The character of the seventh juror conflicts that of the eighth. The eighth juror is strong minded and unwavering, even when all the votes were against him he had the courage to stand up for what he believed. Even when he did not necessarily know the answers he still believed that they should talk. “I don’t know if I believe it or not, maybe I don’t …I just want to talk about it first”. Another character that conflicts that of the eighth is the tenth. The tenth juror declares the boy is guilty because of his own personal prejudice, he judges the boy because he from a slum background and for that reason killed his father.

“It’s the element. I’m telling you they let those kids run wild up there. Well, maybe it serves them right. Know what I mean?” “Now you’re not going to tell us that we’re supposed to believe this kid, knowing what he is. Listen I’ve lived among ’em all my life you can’t believe a word they say. I mean they’re born liars”.

The tenth juror intimidates and harasses the other jurors he even demanded to know who voted not guilty in a secret ballot and threw allegations around. “Alright who was it. I want to know”. The third juror is also intimidating and only showed his true feelings to the case when he ejaculated saying: “…Rotten kid. You work your heart out…”

Rose uses prejudice frequently to generate tension between the jurors as most arguments lead to some form of prejudice. The tenth juror constantly stereotypes in his arguments branding people from slum backgrounds as menaces to society. “They let those kids run wild up there.”

To effectively create tension in a play not only is high-quality dialogue necessary, but stage directions too.

Juror 8 for example lets the others speak about how the knife was unique and that ‘there wasn’t another one of its kind’. Then “the eighth juror stands in silence for a moment, then reaches into his pocket and swiftly withdraws a knife. He holds it in front of his face and flicks open the blade, then he leans forward and sticks it into the table alongside the other. They are exactly matched. There is a burst of sound in the room, the eighth juror stands back from the table watching.”

Juror 11 (mildly) “The knife was very important to the district. He spent one whole day…” (Juror 11 interrupts him)

Juror 11 (furiously) “He’s a fifteenth assistant, or something. What does he know? “(He sits and blows his nose loudly)

Juror 11 shifts his chair away from juror 10 who glares at him over his handkerchief

This incident between the 10th and 11th juror needs atmospheric stage directions. When the 10th juror is interrupted by the eleventh, this causes a dramatic scene, one person is angry with another. The shifting of juror 11’s chair symbolizes his disagreement with number 10. There is also a striking contrast between the two, while one is talking the other suddenly bursts out and interrupts. If these stage directions were not there the play would be rather bland, and therefore lose its tension, and the words ‘glares at him…’ really gives a vibrant effect on the acting going on. It makes the reader or viewer build an image of the play in his or her head.

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Again pathetic fallacy is frequent throughout ‘ ‘ Also the weather; at the beginning the weather is bright and sunny, shining a positive light on the play. Then as the play progresses it becomes stormy, the heavy pelting of the rain is appropriate as it reflects the final outburst of the building tension.


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