Shawshank Redemption: From Prison to Pacific

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From Prison to Pacific

Entangled in the web of American history lies the American Dream. It is what America is founded on. The dream of freedom, of success, of improving one’s self. America would not be the same without these core desires. Whether it be to become rich, become a citizen of the United States, or even to be freed from prison, one must possess certain traits in order to be successful. This theme of following one’s aspirations is explored in various films and pieces of literature. Shawshank Redemption, written by Stephen King, is a powerful film noted for the message it sends through the characters of Andy Dufresne and Red about the importance of having and following one’s hopes and dreams. In Shawshank Redemption, the American Dream is portrayed as a vision that can only be obtained by following religion for the sake of salvation, having hope in all situations, and being willing to take risks. Due to Andy’s strong personality traits, he was fully able to reach a dream of his own. Red however, was forced to cling on to Andy’s because he was missing or lacking some of the qualities the film deems necessary to achieve one’s own goal.
Religion is a continuous theme in Shawshank Redemption and, if used for the right reasons, is a necessity for accomplishing the American Dream. The two characters in the movie that reference the Bible are the warden and Andy Dufresne. However, their purposes for following religion differ, and therefore their outcomes are dissimilar at the end of the film.
When first introduced to the warden he states, ‘“I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible.’” These two ideas are contradictory because the warden’s portrayal of discipline includes physically beating prisoners, whereas the Bible says that “the wicked and those who love violence [the Lord’s] soul hates” (Psalm 11:5). Unlike a true religious man, the warden takes part in a murder and steals money. These acts make one assume that the warden was not at all religious, and instead imitates Christianity for the sake of covering up his immorality. Therefore, the warden’s fate ends in a suicide after his crimes are discovered. Andy on the other hand, follows the Bible for a different reason. In a letter to the warden he states that “salvation lay within.” Instead of using the Bible as a cover-up, he uses religion to free himself from prison and evil, similar to how Christians follow the Lord for salvation. When he is finally free, Andy raises his arms up to the sky as if in worship. He utilizes the Bible properly which enables him to accomplish his dream. On the other hand, Red does not appear to be a religious man, which detracts from his ability to reach a goal of his own. He can only accomplish a dream by feeding off of the religious nature of his friend Andy.


In addition to following religion for the sake of salvation, hope is also a key ingredient needed for attaining one’s American Dream. In the film, Red is immediately intrigued by Andy from the moment he arrives at Shawshank. There is a firm uniqueness about him that sets him apart from the rest of the prisoners. The difference is: Andy has hope. To him, “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.” Red argues with Andy and states that “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside.” With this outlook, Red is bound to follow in the footsteps of Brooks, an inmate who commits suicide after being released from prison because he was fearful and was without any ambitions or desires. However, Red continues to observe Andy who does not give up on his dream to be free. Andy’s bad experiences in prison do not diminish his hope; they fuel it. For 20 years Andy believes in himself until he finally escapes and achieves his American Dream. His success influences Red so much that Red eventually gains hope as well. Instead of following the fate of Brooks, Red’s new belief in himself overcomes his fear of being outside of the prison walls. Although he never fully has a dream of his own, Red’s new-found hope alone is what makes him able to join Andy in freedom, and partially achieve an American Dream.

Having hope and following religion are both vital in order to accomplish an American Dream, but above all else, one must be willing to take risks. At the end of Shawshank Redemption, our protagonist Andy Dufresne, is seen as a free man scrubbing a boat on the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. This life-long vision he set for himself came true, but never would have if he was disinclined to risk everything, even his life for it. Andy takes chances throughout his entire prison sentence. At one point in the film, Andy risks playing opera music over the speaker system so that “for the briefest of moments every last man in Shawshank [could feel] free.” At another point, Andy risks approaching the guard to give him advice on money problems. In addition, Andy risks the consequence of being shot by keeping a rock hammer and spending 20 years cutting through the prison wall. Without taking chances, Andy might never have seen the Pacific Ocean. Red, who also joined Andy in achieving freedom had to take a risk to get there. When he was called into his parole meeting, Red spoke exactly how he felt without any regard to punishment. When asked if he was rehabilitated he said, “Rehabilitated. It’s just a bull**** word. So you go on and stamp your form sonny and stop wasting my time, because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a s***.” Cussing to the parole board was a risk, though not as big of a risk that Andy took, but is exactly what won him his freedom.

Shawkshank Redemption is a movie about one man’s desire. That man, Andy Dufresne, exemplifies what it means to dream and the characteristics necessary to attain that goal. These characteristics of being religious, hopeful, and a risk-taker in their strongest form are required to reach one’s dream. Another character in the movie, Red, also achieved a desire. However, at the onset, this desire was not his. Because Red did not have the backbone of religion, and his hopefulness was not as strong, he was unable to have and attain a dream of his own. He had to latch on to Andy’s dream, and feed off of his strengths. Only because of Red’s willingness to take risks, and his ability to gain hope, was he able to partially accomplish the American Dream.
Regardless of the dream attained, both Red and Andy were able to reach what all Americans strive for: the freedom to live and be successful.





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