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A Loss of Hope: Shawshank Redemption

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In the movie The Shawshank Redemption directed by Frank Darabont, a well-off banker named Andy Dufresne is sentenced to back-to-back life sentences and goes to jail for a crime he did not commit. While in jail, Samuel Norton, the Warden at Shawshank Prison, imposes his sadistic, religious will on Andy and the other prisoners in order to “institutionalize” them and take away their hopes and dreams by taking away their future. This is shown when Red, Andy’s best friend in prison and a self-proclaimed “man who knows how to get things,” says, “These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized . . . They send you here for life, and that's exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.” The institutionalizing taking place at Shawshank is meant to extinguish the hopes and dreams of the prisoners and lead them to death and loss of all hope. Some prisoners though, like Andy Dufresne, defy this institutionalization and carry their hopes and dreams until they are made real.
A key example of the Warden and Shawshank prison taking away a prisoner’s hope and leading him to death is Brooks Hatlen. Brooks is the prison librarian and has been at Shawshank for over 50 years. When he learns of his parole being accepted and he becoming a free man, he threatens to kill Heywood, a fellow prisoner and friend of Red and Andy, in order to stay in prison. Red tells of Brook’s institutionalization and reason for wanting to stay when he says, “The man's been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he's an important man. He's an educated man. Outside, he's nothin’! Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands.” Being in prison for as long as he was drove Brooks to depend on the walls of Shawshank. It is because of this that Brooks has an odd American Dream: wanting to stay in prison rather than being free. In his suicide note from outside prison, after he is paroled, Brooks states “I don'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 has loses all hope and hangs himself at his halfway house, thus ending his short-lived time outside of Shawshank. The institutionalizing of the prisoners at Shawshank takes away their hope by taking away their future. With Brooks, it took his life.
While the Warden and Shawshank’s evil will led to the death of Brooks Hatlen, it failed on Andy Dufresne. While in jail, Andy holds hopes and dreams of being free. He dreams of owning a hotel and boat in Mexico and says, “Whatever mistakes I made I've paid for and then some. That hotel and that boat... I don't think it's too much to want.” Andy’s hopes of a free and relaxed life in Mexico are his version of the American Dream. He knows he is innocent and does not deserve to be in prison. He hopes that the Warden will realize that he did not kill his wife or her lover. On the contrary, the Warden Norton does not care if Andy is innocent or not and uses him to run his dirty-money scandals. When Tommy Williams, a young convict who knows the truth about who killed Andy’s wife and lover, comes to the Warden with knowledge and proof of Andy’s innocence, the Warden has him shot and killed. By doing this he is further taking away Andy’s hopes of getting out being free and therefore further breaking him down and institutionalizing him.

After 19 years in prison, Andy decides that he has had enough of the Warden and Shawshank and escapes one rainy night through a tunnel he has been digging in the wall. The same day, after Red tells him “Don't do that to yourself! Talking shitty pipedreams! Mexico's down there, and you're in here, and that's the way it is,” Andy says “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” Andy’s escape that night, followed by the Warden ripping off the poster covering the tunnel the next morning, is the climax of the movie. This is the climax because Andy defies Shawshank and the Warden and breaks free of the institutionalization that is taking place in the prison.

Another example of the loss of hope at Shawshank being defied is when Andy locks himself in the Warden’s office and plays a record of two opera women singing over the intercom. When he plays the record, Red states, “I tell you, those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away... and for the briefest of moments -- every last man at Shawshank felt free.” The prisoners feeling free is the last thing that the Warden wants in his prison. He wants them to lose all hope and dreams of the outside world and being free. By playing the record, Andy does the exact opposite and gives the prisoners a reason to hope and believe in their dreams again.

Throughout a person’s life, there will be people will try to hold them down and stop them from achieving their dreams. Some people, like Brooks Hatlen, get held down and have their dreams taken away. Others, like Andy Dufresne, overcome and are able to realize their dreams. We all hold hope for a better future, but those of us who keep our hopes alive through harsh conditions and take action against those who hold us down, will thrive and grasp our dreams.





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