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The Shawshank Redemption: An Analysis

The Shawshank Redemption: An Analysis

The Shawshank Redemption

By Glenn Bossik

Screenplay by: Frank Darabont Based on the Novella, "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," by: Stephen King

In Frank Darabont's screenplay for the film, "The Shawshank Redemption," Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), the protagonist, learns that only by freeing his soul from the self-torment of guilt over his wife's death can he free himself from the spatial and temporal exile of the Shawshank Prison.

The word, spatial, means the space Andy occupies in the prison. The word, temporal, means the time he spends in that space. And, exile is his removal from society through imprisonment by the State.

The story of Andy's spatial and temporal imprisonment is structurally similar to Author Edith Hamilton's re-telling of the myth of "Perseus."

In that myth, Perseus, a young man whose father exiled him and his mother from society, is forced to spend his time journeying around different spaces among surrounding islands in order to obtain a proper wedding gift for his mother's marriage to a new husband and to stop mentally tormenting himself over previously failing to give her new husband that gift. The gift turns out to be the severed head of Medusa, a deadly creature known as a Gorgon.

In "The Shawshank Redemption," Andy Dufresne creates a gift for his fellow prison inmates by spending his time transforming a formally useless space in the Shawshank Prison into "the best prison library in New England." This is his way of seeking redemption.

He's doing penance for his wife's death by educating the inmates, giving them hope and in that way mentally freeing them from Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton), head of the prison.

Andy even tutors inmate Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows), helping Tommy pass a high school equivalency test.

But the warden, Norton, stands in the way of all progress at the prison. He's a modern-day Medusa. Inmates cannot look at him or speak to him the wrong way without incurring his wrath.

For instance, when Andy Dufresne, a banker who was imprisoned after being wrongly accused of the murder of his wife, finds out from Tommy that there is evidence of Andy's innocence and tells Norton about this, Norton refuses to listen.


Andy calls Norton "obtuse." Norton responds by giving him a month in solitary confinement.

During that time, Norton kills Tommy in order to prevent word of Andy's innocence from reaching the outside world.

Afterwards, Andy says: "I didn't pull the trigger. But I drove her [my wife] away. That's why she died. Because of me, the way I am."

He was unable to give his wife the love she needed, so she had an affair with a golf pro who worked at a country club that employed Elmo Blatch (Bill Bolender), the man who ended up killing her.

Using a few supplies from a fellow inmate named Red (Morgan Freeman), Andy escapes from the Shawshank Prison and exposes Warden Samuel Norton for money laundering. To avoid becoming an inmate there, Norton kills himself by shooting himself in the head.

Metaphorically, this death is similar to the decapitation of Medusa by Perseus. Just as Perseus cuts Medusa's head off to redeem himself over failing to do the right thing for his mother and her new husband, so too does Andy Dufresne have Norton's head blown off to redeem himself over the death of his wife.

And, just as Perseus uses a shield to view Medusa, a sword to decapitate her, and a magic bag to hold her head, so too does Andy use a rock hammer to dig an escape hole through the wall of a jail cell, a poster of Racquel Welch to hide the hole in the wall, and a bag to transport written evidence of Warden Samuel Norton's money-laundering scheme through the hole to places outside the prison where the scheme can be exposed.

The poster of Racquel Welch is the main spatial element of "The Shawshank Redemption." Andy Dufresne uses the poster to control his jail cell, which is his space in the prison.

It takes Andy a great deal of time to dig a sizeable enough hole in the wall of the cell to escape from the prison. The time it takes to dig the hole is the main temporal element of the story.

So, in "The Shawshank Redemption," time and space play an important role in the development of the plot and the characters.


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