Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King


While this story was somewhat lengthy, I decided it was the perfect amount of pages to adequately tell the story and give the characters justice. As I progressed, I found myself immersed in each page and wanting to read farther than the author allowed. There were numerous cliffhangers throughout the context of the story, the biggest one being the ending itself. King cleverly orchestrated an ending that makes the reader wonder what will happen next in Red's life. "Will he find Andy? Will Andy be where he vowed to go? Will they be reunited once more?" These are all conjectures that can only be guessed upon by the reader. I like to think that he did indeed find Andy, and that they finally got to live the lives of freedom they both deserved.
The plot of this story is told as a memory, and is later added on to in the present tense. Because it spans over a large time frame, Red continuously gives dates of events to keep the reader's comprehension of time in perspective. While reading, I noticed three major shifts in Andy Dufresne's character. The first was the view of Andy as a newcomer and outsider who was weak and could be taken advantage of. Andy's run-ins with the sisters are proof enough that the other prisoners didn't see him as a man who could pose a threat to anyone. The next was a shift as a man to be respected after his incident with the Warden Hadley while tarring the roof. He proved then that he was a man of character with valuable intellect. Last, I saw his great escape as the final shift in his character. After his getaway, Andy became seen more as a legend than a real man anymore.
"So yeah- if you asked me to give you a flat-out answer to the question of whether I'm trying to tell you about a man or a legend that got made up around the man... I'd have to say that the answer lies somewhere in between" (page 48).

Point of View

“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is presented in the form of a monologue, a written narrative that Red prepares to come to terms with his life in prison and the aftermath of his incarceration. Although Red spends a substantial amount of the story focusing on Andy, he also admits that the narrative is as much about himself as it is about his friend. The fact that it is written in first person adds elements of authenticity and validity to the story. Adding to its credibility even further, Red's simple diction and prison slang make the story that much more believable. Throughout his storytelling, Red makes the universality of feelings like frustration, despair, and the desire for freedom evident within his characters. His analysis of Andy cannot be seen as purely objective; however, since he makes it quite clear that he sees Andy as a role model and friend. Red holds Andy responsible as part of the reason he decided to change his life, meaning he holds him in his highest esteem.
"No, what he [Andy] needed was just to be free, and if I kicked away what I had, it would be like spitting in the face of everything he had worked so hard to win back" (page 103).


As clear foil characters, Red and Andy highlight each other's identities through their contrasting personalities and behaviors. Red is considered a "man who knows how to get things" (page 27), and Andy is quite the opposite. He's an introvert who prefers to keep to himself and doesn't naturally socialize with the other prisoners at Shawshank. While Red speaks of his fear of leaving the prison that surrounds him, Andy dreams of the freedom that awaits him beyond the grounds.
The reader gets a sense of what these characters are like through both aspects of direct and indirect characterization. The interactions between Red and the other convicts show that he is viewed as a man of power within the prison. He is the "go-to" guy that nobody dares to mess with. Even Andy picks up on his reputation shortly after he arrives at Shawshank. Andy, on the other hand, is more complex. More and more aspects of his character are revealed during the entirety of the story, and Red supplies the reader with the opinions of other characters towards him as well. His quiet, reclusive nature is highlighted by Red's outgoing and curious one.


Set in the countryside of Maine, Shawshank ironically seemed to be placed in a beautiful and unrestricted location. When I think of Maine, I think of the seaside and the coast, both of which are images of wide expanse and airiness. These are clearly highly contrasting images with the concept of prison. I'm not sure if there was greater significance to Shawshank's placement, but I do think that Andy's eventual escape parallels the feeling of freedom there.
As for the time period, this short story is set in the mid 1900's. The time period is ideal because it was during those generations that numerous advancements were being made worldwide in terms of technology, everyday life, occupations, etc. Red referenced these drastic changes when he was finally released from prison, saying "I've described prison society as a scaled-down model of your outside world, but I had no idea of how fast things moved on the outside; the raw speed people move at. They talk faster. And louder" (page 102). This simple observation shows how different things had become in the real world while Red and Andy were left in the seclusion of Shawshank.


For me, theme is always one of the most difficult aspects of a story to analyze. It is my belief that there are oftentimes several themes, so choosing one can be difficult since several can be important. In "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", the most prevalent theme that I took out of it was the power of hope. Hope, more than anything else, drives the inmates at Shawshank and gives them the will to live. The first time hope is mentioned in the story, Andy says that Tommy Williams' ability to testify for him and prove his innocence unlocks "a tiger called Hope in his mind". It is this hope that rejuvenates Andy and in my opinion is what makes him so determined to ultimately find a way to leave. He devotes years of his life and painstaking patience into digging a hole through the wall of his prison cell with only one outcome in mind. Andy was determined to escape, and would have gone to any measure to do so. In his letter addressed to Red, Andy writes that “hope is a good thing,” which in the end is all that Red has left. The recurring theme of hope continues to surface until the very closing lines of this story. Reds end his tale with the simple words, "I hope". These two simple words have a much greater meaning than one might think. Just as it is proved through the story, hope can be one of the most powerful qualities on earth.

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