Shawshank Redemption: Themes

The opening scenes of Shawshank Redemption highlight the extent to which the prisoners have isolated themselves and compromised their sense of identity. Freedom is a frightening concept for Red, who dreams of being paroled but eventually, struggles to find his place in society after almost forty years in prison. Red identifies Andy as the part of himself who never let go of the idea of freedom. The Power of Hope Hope, more than anything else, drives the inmates at Shawshank and gives them the will to live.

Andy’s sheer determination to maintain his own sense of self-worth and escape keeps him from dying of frustration and anger in solitary confinement. Hope is an abstract, passive emotion, similar to the passive, immobile, and inert lives of the prisoners. Andy sets about making hope a reality in the form of the agonizing progress he makes each year tunneling his way through his concrete cell wall. Even Andy’s even-keeled and well-balanced temperament, however, eventually succumb to the bleakness of prison life. Corruption and CrimeShawshank blurs the line between right and wrong and challenges the notion that isolating and reforming criminals will turn them into law-abiding citizens. Instead, the prison is a den of corruption, greed, bribery, and money laundering. Everyone exploits the system for their own gain, from Red, who can smuggle anything into the prison, all the way up to the wardens, who profit from forced prison labor. Andy’s willingness to launder Warden Norton’s money initially serves as a survival technique, a means of protecting himself by extending his good will to the administration.

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The fact that Shawshank is as corrupt and tainted as the outside world further justifies Andy’s escape from a hypocritical, exploitative system that cares little for the prisoners’ lives or rehabilitation. Symbols Rita Hayworth The pinup posters of Rita Hayworth and the other women represent the outside world, hope, and every inmate’s desire to escape to a normal life. Andy admits as much when he tells Red that sometimes he imagines stepping right through the photograph and into another life.More literally, Rita Hayworth really does remind Andy of his desire to actually break out of Shawshank because of the chiselled hole in the concrete that the poster conceals. As a result, Rita Hayworth embodies the sense of hope that keeps Andy alive and sane and distinguishes him from the other inmates. Rocks The rocks Andy sculpts serve as a cover to justify owning a rock hammer, but they also represent the spirit of hope that he exudes. As an amateur geologist, Andy is undoubtedly distracted from the doldrums of daily prison life by the rocks.

Continuing to pursue his hobby gives him a sense of normality and control over his life that many other inmates lack. Displaying his collection of polished rocks on the windowsill of his cell also gives Andy a sense of accomplishment and means to measure the passage of time. More important, however, sculpting the pebbles give Andy hope and a means to fend off despair.

Giving these sculptures away to Red and other inmates also represents Andy’s ability to transfer his sense of hope—his “inner light” as Red calls it—to some of the other inmates.



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