The Shawshank Redemption: Rhetorical Criticism

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In 1994 Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman teamed together in Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption making one of the best duos since Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Based on Stephen King's short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption the film, although not popular in the box office, made its profits when released on VHS and DVD (Haviland). It is now listed as second in the top 250 films according to the Internet Movie Database. In this paper, I am going to examine The Shawshank Redemption to see if its rhetorical significance rests in its genre. The film falls into four major genres: escape film, prison film, social-drama film, and period piece. I will give a definition for each genre and examples showing that it does fit into each category.

Escape films are those which,
… involve the audience in the plight of either a wrongly accused man or an attractive criminal… (and) some of them, managed to combine an escape plot with bigger statements about human nature and freedom. (

The Shawshank Redemption leads us through the experience of Andy Dufresne who is accused of killing his wife and her lover. Although he denies the crime, all the evidence points to him and he is thrown in the Shawshank State Prison. One of his inmates, years later, reveals that Dufresne is indeed innocent and the real killer is still alive.

When the warden doesn't allow him to have his case re-opened, Dufresne executes his escape. As his escape is shown we see that he has been working on it for the past nineteen years. This plan he'd been developing is what kept him sane, as he said to Morgan Freeman, "Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free." (The Shawshank Redemption). Though Dufresne is speaking of being a prisoner, he also is making a larger statement about human nature and what he has learned while in the Shawshank.

A prison film is,
A subgenre of the crime film that centers on the difficult living...
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