Shawshank Redemption: A Different Kind of Dream

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It is hard to picture having to watch one’s life, dreams, and ambitions slip from beyond reach. During the time of the American Dream, most people desired a life of luxury or a life free from hardship; however Andy Dufresne and the other inmates at Shawshank Prison were forced to alter their hopes to meet a smaller scale as to avoid sinking into an unbearable disappointment. In The Shawshank Redemption, directed by Frank Darabont, the inmates, driven by determination, fear, and sometimes ignorance, are forced to adapt the traditional, luxurious version of the American dream to one of simple survival in order to match their un-American and often merciless circumstances.
Not all dreams can come true. Sometimes people have to change in order to be happy and satisfied with their lives. This is true of the prisoners being held at Shawshank Prison: they change who they are and what they dream of and live. Red, the main narrator in the movie, mastered survival in Shawshank by altering his lifestyle, as well as his ambitions. He learned that “hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” By disregarding all thoughts of the American Dream and focusing on what he could actually accomplish, Red was able to survive almost an entire lifetime in the prison. While Red was able to adapt to his surroundings, some inmates remained stuck in a false perception of where they were. Fat Ass, one of the prisoners brought in with Andy, was not able leave his old life and dreams behind and because of this, is unable to survive the first night in Shawshank. Dragged from his cell screaming “I don’t belong here,” he was beaten to death by one of the guards. It is because of this denial and ultimate refusal to let go of his past and previous goals that he failed to survive. The ability to adapt is an important quality in a person. Sometimes people are thrown into unexpected situations and they have to be able to forget everything else except for what it takes to survive.
One of the most important survival tools is motivation: to want something so badly that a person would do anything for it. Many Americans were motivated by their desires for wealth and luxury; however the inmates were forced to hope on a smaller scale. One scene in the movie depicts the inmates entering their names into a drawing for the ability to work outside. They were looking for something to make the prison “walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments [feel] free.” All people want to feel free but these men scaled down their hopes from being literally free to being allowed outside for seven hours a day. Another case of lowering the standards of dreams is Andy, the main character and one of the heroes of the movie, and his library. He spends so much time focusing on fixing up this library for the inmates that he does not have time to focus on the negative aspects of prison life. Before arriving at Shawshank, his main goal was not to establish the best prison library in America, but upon arriving to Shawshank, he saw that his dreams were going to have to be altered if he wanted to survive.
Some people will argue that ignorance is bliss. For the supporters and followers of the American Dream, this statement is very true. They refused to believe that anything could or would not go according to plan. This was not a luxury given to the prisoners at Shawshank. They had to be aware and conscious of their situation in order to overcome it. Brooks, the head librarian at Shawshank, was not able to overcome his situation. He did not know how to survive outside of the prison and it was this that drove him to suicide. In a letter to Red and Andy, he describes how he “[doesn’t] like it here, I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I've decided not to stay. I doubt they'd kick up any fuss, not for an old crook like me.” Brooks was not able to adapt and return from the simplistic, lowered standards back to the standards held by upholders of the American Dream. Another example of ignorance can be seen in Tommy Williams, the new guy who relays the real story of Andy’s wife’s murder. He is ignorant as to the cruel nature of the warden and the guards of Shawshank. By going against what the Warden in telling him, he ultimately kills himself. He is still caught up in the American Dream, or the idea that he is entitled to his own thoughts and opinions. This is not the case in Shawshank. A refusal to comply leads to only one end: death.

The idea behind the American Dream, a life of luxury and wealth, can not be applied to all Americans. Those people, such as the inmates of Shawshank Prison, have to adapt their goals and dreams in order to survive their harsh circumstances.

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