Shawshank Redemption: Themes

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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 Crime
Shawshank 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. 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.

Rita Hayworth
The pinup posters of Rita Hayworth and the other women represent the outside world, hope, and every inmate’s desire to escape...
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