The concept of ‘truth’ versus ‘perception’ can be observed in nearly all aspects of life. What is the truth these days; in newspaper articles, current affair shows or stories that a friend is telling you, is it truth or is it a version of the truth? The complexities inherent in this concept of ‘truth’ versus ‘perception’ will be discussed in relation to two texts; “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose, and, “After the First Death” by Robert Cormier. What is the key difference between ‘truth’ and ‘perception’, and which is more important? The truth is the reality of the fact while perception is the truth relative to oneself.
The mind, the nature of the metaphysical of a human being is different to everyone else’s. Everyone has lived different lives; experiencing different passions, interests, suffering and possessing different capacities in knowledge. People are also brought up in different ways, belonging to different cultures and religions. This diverse array of factors is what makes us who we are, affecting and contributing to our views and perspectives. When contemplating the ‘truth’, it is filtered through a wide spectrum of experiences, knowledge and emotions, resulting in ones perception. For example, an orange is orange, which is the truth.
If you look at it through green glasses, it will appear green but the truth is that the orange remains orange. Perception is like the green glasses, filtering the truth relative to the person that is perceiving it. Twelve Angry Men is a really intriguing text that is clearly evident of the notion of truth and perception. It is about young boy on trial for the supposed murder of his aggressive father. Four days have passed where evidence is laid out, exhibits shown, witnesses are heard, statements of the plaintiff and the accused are given, and the twelve jurors watch and listen attentively.
Now, it is the job of the jury to reach a verdict as a whole; twelve to nothing vote either way, guilty or innocent. The judge has directed the jury to find the boy guilty if there is not the slightest reasonable doubt. If they vote guilty, he will be sent to the electric chair and his death, this is mandatory. Eleven of the jurors declare that the boy is guilty except one of them. The 8th Juror voted not guilty, believing there was still much to be discussed and contemplated despite, the severely impending evidence laid out in court.
Even though he was far from convinced of the boy’s innocence, he believed some of the evidence put against him was ambiguous. He didn’t want to send this kid to his death with doubt in his mind, and believed the kid deserved a fair chance considering his extenuating circumstances. Throughout the afternoon, all the jurors are yelling, disputing the facts of the case. Each piece of circumstantial evidence is discussed once more, and the ambiguities in the facts are revealed. The truth was being distorted, and twisted to make it relative to the perceptions of many of the jurors.
Many of the jurors had already made up their mind, that the boy was guilty. Their decisions were clouded by personal experience, hatred or distaste for something that surfaced into the subconscious, which influenced their views negatively to convict the defendant, believing this will satisfy their unsettling emotions. As such reasonable doubt was raised, there was a huge argument by those who had already made up their minds, as the decisions of some were concrete and they were stubborn in not opening up to new possibilities.
The prosecution provided a strong case with very compelling evidence. The first piece of evidence disputed was the switchblade that the boy supposedly used to stab and kill his father. The boy left the house after being abused by his father, storming out angrily. He went straight to a neighborhood junk shop where he bought a switchblade, a uniquely crafted knife that the shop keeper who sold it to him identified it in court as one of a kind. He then bumped into three friends of his in front the diner. During this time, his friend saw the switchblade and identified the ‘death weapon’ in court.
This is very convincing evidence, that it was the only blade of its particular craftsmanship, it was identified as property of the boy by his friends and it was also the same blade used to kill his father. This is the facts presented by the prosecution, the ‘truth’. This truth is wavered when the 8th juror brings out a blade exactly the same as the one as the one the boy had. It is interesting as the shopkeeper stated that it was rare and unusual yet, the 8th juror brought the same one from a pawn shop near the boy’s house.
This contradiction therefore questions the credibility of the shopkeeper’s accounts and brings a shadow of a doubt to this case. The boy’s friends did indeed identify it as the death weapon but with the possibility of this switchblade being an abundant produce, it also presents the possibility that another person stabbed and killed his father with the same kind of knife. The next piece of evidence that is debated is the testimony of one of the key witnesses of the prosecution. The old man living downstairs heard the boy yell, “I’ll kill you! followed by a thump on the floor. He then witnessed a young man, supposedly the defendant, running away. The old man said that after the thump, he ran straight to the door in fifteen seconds and saw the boy running as he opened the door. During the proceedings of the trial, the old man was dragging his foot slowly across the floor having recently suffered a stroke. The jurors observed the diagram and contemplated that the old man could not make the distance from his bed, across the hall and down the hall, and opening the door in fifteen seconds.
The door was also chain-lock, making the old man’s testimony seem rather ridiculous. The 8th juror dramatized this situation, even moving at a faster rate than the old man and reaching a time of forty two seconds. Therefore, the old man could not have reached the door in time so, he couldn’t have seen who ran down the stairs only assuming it was the boy. The prospect of the boy yelling he’ll kill his father is faltered, as it is proved by the jurors that the el train would have been roaring pass at that specific point in time.
This makes it literally impossible to concentrate let alone hear anything while the el train is roaring by, therefore, the old man did not hear the boy scream, ‘I’ll kill you Even if the boy screamed that murderous statement, it is suggested that it is a common saying when people are angry, and don’t mean these words literally. This is aided by the 3rd juror, who yelled, “I’ll kill him” to the 8th juror, as a result of his anger when the 8th juror suggested that he wanted the boy to die, that he was a sadist.
Obviously, the 3rd juror didn’t mean it but rather it was due to his anger which showed this was similar to what happened with the boy and his father. The defendant’s alibi was also in debate as the boy’s account diverges with that of the state. The boy presented a weak alibi as, he claimed he was at the movies but could not remember the film he watched. The state implicated that he went straight home and killed his father before fleeing. The truth of the fact is again challenged. The 8th juror suggested that the boy was under tremendous emotional stress, coming home and accused with the murder of his father.
He was interviewed by detectives in his home, with his father’s dead body in the next room. This was assumption was not favored by the stubborn jurors. The 8th juror questioned the 4th, asking him about the time he went the cinema. The 4th juror could not remember the second feature and the actors that starred in it. It indicates that no one can prove that the boy wasn’t at the movies; he could have been there but forgotten what he saw. If it was perfectly normal for the 4th juror to forget a few details, then it is perfectly normal for the boy especially with the stress he was under at the time.
There are many techniques incorporated in Twelve Angry Men that illustrates the concepts of ‘truth’ and ‘perception’. One technique utilized in this text is how the evidence is presented in a second hand account. It allows the reader to hear the evidence through the filter of the juror’s mind. It has a significant effect, as different jurors portray the evidence, the ‘truth’ in a particular way that conforms to their perceptions. It gives the reader insight on what experiences, feelings and personal opinions they have as, it twists the evidence based on these factors. For example: 0th Juror: (interrupting) Brother, you can say that again. The kids who crawl outa those places are real trash. I don’t want any part of them, I’m telling you. 5th Juror: (rising) I’ve lived in a slum all my life. I nurse that trash in Harlem Hospital six nights a week From the quotes above, the perception of these two jurors is different deriving from their subjectivity or personal experience. The 10th juror can be seen as a ‘bigot’, prejudiced against anything to do with the slums. Later in the story, his bigotry is fully revealed, insisting people from the slums are drunks and liars who fight all the time.
The 5th juror stands up for the people in slum area when Juror 10 speaks disparagingly about them. This sense of protection can be said to origin from his life living in the slum and his job now nursing the slum. Another technique used that portrays elements of ‘truth’ and ‘perception’ is juxtaposition. Throughout the book, there is constant juxtaposition of the different interpretation of the evidence. For example: 2nd Juror: …Well, there is this whole business about the stab wound and how it was made, the downward angle of it, you know? … The boy is five feet, seven inches tall.
His father was six two. That’s a difference of seven inches. It’s a very awkward thing to stab down into the chest of someone who is half a foot taller than you are. … 3rd Juror: All right. There’s your angle. Take a look at it. Down and in … 5th Juror: …Switch-knives came with the neighborhood where I lived…You don’t use this kind of knife that way. You have to hold it like this to release the blade. In order to stab downwards, you would have to change your grip. 8th Juror: How do you use? 5th Juror: Underhanded…. Anyone who’s ever used a switch-knife’d never handle it any other way.
From the excerpt above, the evidence of the wound mark made by the switch-knife is interpreted in different ways due each juror’s perception. Juror 3 due to inexperience just suggested something that seemed instinctual, something that seemed logical that fit his perception that the boy killed his father. However, the 5th juror knew the exact maneuver used with this particular knife, stating that someone with previous experience wouldn’t use any other way. This interpretation of the evidence was due to his past experiences in the slum, witnessing fights in his neighborhood that involved this specific blade.
Lastly, the conclusion is inconclusive. The play intentionally avoids from providing the audience with an upright answer. At the end of the story, there is no proof of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The audience is intended to bring about their own verdict. This can be seen as ‘truth’ and ‘perception’ as the reader must now use their own intelligence and perceptions, based on the supposed truth, which they also must decide what the truth is. ‘After the First Death’ is another great text that dwells in the theme of ‘truth’ and ‘perception’.
It is about a bus load of children being held hostage by a group of terrorist. It stimulates the mind to think, who is right? Was the American nation, or its army, right in killing hundreds of their kind for no reason and covering it up? Or, Are the terrorists justified in their actions in keeping a bus load of children and killing one each day if their demands aren’t met? Are they terrorists, if they are just trying to right what wrong was cast upon them? This novel is relevant as it cleverly shows the ‘perception’ of the ‘truth’ in accordance to both sides.
One technique that is used is juxtaposition; the changing of the point of view. It allows the audience to hear and read the story from all sides; to learn all the character’s roles, thoughts and actions. For example, it changes from the general, his son, Kate the bus driver and the terrorists, Artkin and Miro. The effect is that it entails is juxtaposing each side’s perceptions ‘Truth’ and ‘perception’ is everywhere that involves the mind and thought, perceiving the truth through your filters that you have gained throughout your life.
Through this discussion in relation to the texts, “Twelve Angry Men” and “After the First Death”, the ‘absolute truth’ is compared to the ‘relative truth’, the perceptions of the characters and the audience. Many techniques are utilized in both texts to illustrate the concepts of ‘truth’ and ‘perception’ such as; juxtaposition, showing evidence through the filters of the characters, an open ended conclusion and much more. ‘Perception’ is the filter where all thought and contemplation goes through, making it relative to oneself. Is there really an ‘absolute truth’, or is perception the truth.