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12 Angry Men & the 1950s (abridged)

Social Context for "12 Angry Men"

Rachel Appleby

on 6 January 2014

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Transcript of 12 Angry Men & the 1950s (abridged)

The Social Context of
"12 Angry Men"

Watch the following TV ad from the 1950s and make some inferences about the time period.
12 Angry Men
Senator Joseph McCarthy
The Red Scare: The anti-communist feeling in the U.S. really started to grow when conservative politicians took advantage of the fears of American citizens.

McCarthyism: In 1950, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy said he had a list of Communists working in the government.

After that, Congress launched hundreds of investigations on individuals suspected of being communists.

Many who refused to cooperate were blacklisted or jailed.
During WWII, Americans and Soviets were allies against the Nazis; after the war, however, tensions between the two countries grew because they had two very different forms of government (democracy vs. communism)

Communism= form of gov’t that in theory promises a classless society where there is no private property and everyone shares equally.

Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, & China were all communist countries and the U.S. (a capitalist society) feared that communists would take over the world.
A Time of Fear
TV became an affordable form of home entertainment and a popular family pastime.
A Time of Entertainment
With the help of the GI Bill, many soldiers got loans to go to college and/or buy homes.

Suburban housing tracts, or suburbs, began to spring up all over the country.
With the end of World War II, there was a boom in American industry (business) and consumerism (spending money).

The American economy was the strongest in the world.
A Time of Prosperity
The 1950s
African American soldiers, who had fought in WWII against bigotry in Europe, returned home to a society that openly accepted & practiced discrimination against blacks.
Jim Crow Laws, which had begun in the late 1800s, had made segregation (separation of whites and blacks) legal in the U.S.
A Time of Civil & Social Unrest
The teenage generation was “born”.

Rock music was invented and became very popular way for young people to express rebellion in an age of conformity.
Soldiers returned home in large numbers (millions).

Many married & started families, which led to an increase in the birth rate known as the Baby Boom era.
A Time of the “American Dream”
MLK Jr. & activists march for equal rights.
Rosa Parks & the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Brown v. Board of Education
The 1950s saw the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, aimed at outlawing racial discrimination in America.
Acts of nonviolent protests and civil disobedience led to tension between activists and gov’t authorities.
Because the Soviets, like the Americans, had nuclear missiles, there was also a widespread fear of a nuclear attack.
People build bomb shelters in their backyards, many public buildings were designated as shelters, and schools held “duck and cover” bomb drills.
Many TV sitcoms portrayed an idealized version of the American family.


U.S. made products were popular around the globe.
A Time of the “American Dream”
A Time of Entertainment
A Time of Entertainment
A Time of Fear
A Time of Fear
Watch this early McDonalds Commercial. Does it make you hungry or...
Let's Take a Look
Limited Setting
The audience's attention cannot be distracted by scene changes, nor can we escape what is happening on stage.

 The jury room is a claustrophobic
where tensions sizzle in the oppressive heat.

The environment creates
and the desire to get out of the confined room.
Rhythm of the Play
– the structure is
several times: exposition/comments followed by an angry outburst/ confrontation, followed by calmness and more discussion …and the cycle repeats.
more specifically court room drama

or Slice of Life performance
Real life is being re created on stage, from the acting down to the set. The play never moves away from the real issues, confrontations and tensions of
 Such plays are created as intelligent pieces of art to confront the audience and
their beliefs. Perhaps audience members or readers will leave having learned something new, or reconsidered existing beliefs.
The play is divided into two
with an interval in between.
 Being a play, the writer provides

and sometimes observation notes regarding the action/ characters that can be used by the director and actors to faithfully portray the action and characters.
Being a realistic play, the language must reflect the different, real people on the jury as well as some legal jargon to remain authentic.
 The
and language used reflects each of the individuals and their varying
 The dialogue is infused with references to
culture and
of the times, as a way of communicating, easing tension and sometimes escaping from the proceedings.
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