Group Dynamics in 12 Angry Men Essay

The 1957 Sidney Lumet directed classic 12 Angry Men, the film adaptation of a stage drama from a few years prior, is centered logistically and physically around an uncomfortably diverse set of men with a common goal of achieving a jury verdict in a murder trial.  Representing the greatest of organizational challenges, the plot forces these 12 instinctively conflicting personalities into the suffocating quarters of a shrinking jury deliberation room.

The setting is consumed by a wilting pressure, as the men are isolated together on a sweltering summer day with the difficult task of assessing the terrible allegation at hand.

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  Lumet’s film is, on the one hand, an excellent discourse on morality and duty amongst a diversity of caricatures.  To another extent though, the work is a study on organizational behavior, producing a setting in which undefined roles are gradually filled by a combination of necessity and individual instinct.

            Amongst the men collectively assigned to the task, numerous organizational roles begin to form and shift, with leaders, followers, thinkers and bullies occupying various positions throughout.

  Though all are moved to address the same problem, each perceives it according to a perspective tied to his own experiences.  The task of reaching a verdict on the basis of evidence would require collaboration, but these prejudices and personalities distinction render this a continually elusive goal.

            It becomes clear quite immediately that leaders and followers are not strictly defined by their willingness to exercise power, but perhaps more by their varying senses of duty.  This is embodied by the narrative’s protagonist, who shows himself to be naturally imbued with a devotion to the propriety of the cause.  The eventual emergence of Juror #8, played to due complexity by Henry Fonda, illustrates that leadership is a capacity which comes with reason, communication and focus.  This is a distinct characterization from the founding of leadership in aggression or overbearing authority.

            With respect to the organizational behavior apparent in this distinction, the critical viewer is inclined to consider the interesting pressure which is placed upon such a leader as Juror #8, who must attempt to levy a minority influence over a group of individuals mostly inclined by the desire to go home to cast their votes with relative unanimity.  In the face of eleven guilty votes, #8 felt that he had no choice but to enter a not guilty vote, bearing in mind the singular duty of the jury.  It was his contention that the primary objective here was not, as some had clearly seen it, to end this case with expediency, but instead to determine whether the defendant was guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’

This language represents the mission statement of the organization formed by the 12 man jury.  Juror #8 was the only individual to administrate the pursuit of this goal and, in a fashion that is reflective of the challenges potentially common to any working environment, was forced to do so in the face of hostile opposition, oppressive external circumstances and various informational challenges.  Instead of seeking to render each of these challenges to obscurity or allowing them to derail the organization from achieving its defined goal, Jury #8 illustrates a valuable managerial talent in motivating various members therein to consider their role in reaching said goal.

            It is through this plot movement that Lumet carefully draws out the process of ascension to group cohesion.  Indeed, this is no simple task, as Juror #8 must none-too-gently navigate the apprehension of some, the distortion of perspective in others and the outright irrational defiance of still others in order to steward the organization to a recognition of itself as a single working unit.  This is a useful point to consider, as we evaluate the many challenges related to personnel which would individually be forced to the surface by the protagonist’s tireless instigation of critical thought.

            After provoking some consternation for voicing his ‘reasonable doubt,’ Juror #8 pragmatically deconstructs the case, pointing out that the primary witness was an elderly woman who was not wearing her glasses at the time of the murder in question.  Moreover, the murder weapon, a switchblade knife which a store clerk claimed he sold to the defendant, was illustrated to be one of a possible infinitive of knives which looked nearly identical to the exhibit A knife.

And perhaps most importantly, the victim of the murder was the defendant’s father and the close association and bad relationship between the two provoked a wealth of circumstantial evidence against the defendant.  From an organizational perspective, these are factors which can be looked upon as uncertain variables upon which critical scrutiny need be applied.  However, the flimsy nature of these variables is generally obscured by the persistence of a group conflict that is founded upon the disparate strands of personality which make up the jury.

            Juror #8 skillfully weaves the primary goal of finding a correct verdict through the fabric of these case facts, appealing to what he senses is an experientially biased perspective in each juror, in order to invoke consideration of all these prospects.  It is thus that he encounters several phenomena of group dynamic which detectably play a part in obstructing the immediate achievement of intended goals.

One effect in particular is that of conformity, which would play a significant part in stimulating some of the meeker jurors to assume the defendant’s guilt on the basis of popular consensus.  For many jurors falling into this category, the influence of many of the more vocal jurors would serve to intimidate or cloud individual perspectives, causing the minority perspective taken by Juror #8 to encounter pointedly steadfast opposition.  The meeker men would retain a strength in numbers that would allow them to hide from organizational responsibility.

            For Juror #8, the situation of organizational unanimity without critical speculation would be in and of itself problematic.  We are not even certain as the audience that the juror is responding to a belief that the defendant was necessarily innocent.  Instead, there is a clear sense of concern over the propriety in carrying out the appropriate duty of the court.  Therefore, we see that the character was left with only the option of initiating conflict as a means to invoking the critical debate which would have otherwise been problematically absent from the proceedings.

            We may consider that the juror might have sought another approach than facing collectively and individually the obstructions to the deliberation of justice.  For one, a possible alternative for action in this circumstance may have been the call for a dismissal of certain jurors.  In particular, Juror #3, played by Lee J. Cobb, is driven by the damaged relationship he shares with his son and Juror #7, played by Jack Warden, is moved to action by his deep-seeded hatred for foreigners.

In the self-appointed role of group leader, the protagonist must attempt to draw these individuals away from these distorting perspectives in order to understand the case on its own merits.  These facts of prejudicial perspective might have been treated as grounds for dismissal from the organization given the legal consideration surrounding such motives and the inherent contrariness which such motives posed to the mission of carrying out justice.  Such an alternative might have properly saved the organization the bottle neck to meeting its goal produced by the resistance of poorly oriented personnel.

            Ultimately, however, Juror #8’s methods, while painstaking, were perhaps the most optimal, implementing as they did a careful strategy of communicative and practical organizational unity in spite of a seemingly irreconcilable spectrum of ideologies, personalities and intentions.  In the resolution of this unique film, the audience never does learn if the defendant is guilty of murder, but viewers are collectively moved to better understand the identifiable characteristics which constitute organizational responsibility.

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