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The Shawshank Redemption: Impact of Imprisonment to an Individual

Updated on November 13, 2022
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Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

The Shawshank Redemption


The Shawshank Redemption: A Film Critique

The 1994 film “The Shawshank Redemption” is a well-known American drama film that represents prison as a place that has a high sense of discipline, institutionalization, and deprivation of freedom, but this film also makes a reasonable comment about a positive attitude in our common lives. The movie depicts hope in the most clutch character when we get into trouble and the protagonist Andy who is a financier keeping his hope for escape from prison and using his wisdom to become successful. I have found some examples and resources about hope from the protagonist Andy, Red, Tommy, and the camera-as-narrator. Aside from the signs of hope for freedom is the hopelessness of being free since the prison has already marred them psychologically and socially. Although hope for freedom was seen to be the very goal, upon release, they are still haunted by their own self-prisons.

A Critical Sneak Peek

Given these details, it can be considered that the story is a metaphor for social and psychological imprisonment along with the name of Red as a symbol of hope and courage. “The Shawshank Redemption” depicts the struggle of prisons as to how convicts' consciousness can be imprisoned and how prisoners must psychologically deal with their life following their release from jail or even while in prison.

In the film, it is not hard to realize that prison can bind both people’s bodies and people’s consciousness. They may have hope to be free, but their minds can never seem to forget that they were once inside cold cells being punished for crimes they may or may not have committed. The protagonist Andy never gives up even when the odds seem to be at their lowest. When he arrived in prison, he immediately began planning for his prison break. Red is the most well-known and the most respected person in prison because he has spent his whole life in prison, and he can get anything he wants because of money. Andy met him and asked Red to buy a chisel for him; Andy likes sculpting. At the end of the film, we know that the chisel was the tool for escape from prison. Andy kept digging his tunnel during the night and bringing out the dust from his pockets and he kept doing this for 20 years. The chisel is the symbol of Andy’s sharp desire for freedom. He never stopped hoping for the duration of 20 years thus he was able to create a tunnel. From this example, it is not hard to find Andy’s hope. Digging a tunnel for a prison break is an impossible and amazing thing but it was the indelible hope for freedom that pushed Andy to do this. Another example can be traced in Andy's statement: “Don’t forget that there are…places…in the world that is not made up of stone, there is something…inside…that they cannot get to…that is hope” Indeed as Andy said, the wall can just bind your body and even spiritual freedom but not hope. Life without hope will be nothing but Andy never gave up, so he kept digging every day. His friends Red and Brooks have given up the hope of freedom and they think hope is the origin of pain. Andy kept trying for 20 years and finally reached his goal and his hope also saved his friend's life because his behavior influenced his friends. In my way of thinking, hope is valuable for every person. According to a short 1999 article by Luc Bovens titled Value of Hope, at some point hope also is crucial for people to survive after incarceration.

The struggles of the prisoners are challenging since these isolate them from the rest of society. The internal struggle is at most stronger that the constant physical struggles they all have to face each day.

The Concealed Meanings within the Character Portrayals

The prisoners clearly mirror issues that they have before, during, and after their imprisonment. One of the prisoners committed suicide in the story. This has a deeper meaning. It could be considered that the person has been experiencing anxiety. Anxiety can be an essential experience since it reveals the individual’s core issues (Tyson, 2006). In this case, the prisoners had their own sets of anxiety given the situation of incarceration. Since they have their core issues already, which are primarily their imprisonment due to murder and other heavy cases, they have their issues that were watered and developed during their stay. Their anxiety even surfaced to the point of committing suicide. The point of committing suicide is also a psychological matter since the person already listened to the id. It is also possible that their imprisonment has been repressed it pushed them to opt for choices that are highly unfavorable to them. Repression is ignoring or forgetting the unresolved conflicts, hidden desires, or traumatic past events so that they are forced out of conscious awareness and into the realm of the unconscious (Barry, 1967). As they try to deal with their imprisonment, they tend to repress the idea that they lack freedom and that the only option that one of them thought of is suicide. Suicide is a physical escape for them. Although realistically speaking it would not really be of help to a person, committing suicide sets free the imprisoned mind and spirit with the person’s belief that he will be free from the bitter state of reality.

Where the Hope Begins

According to the film, Red also has hope for freedom. For instance, when he has already completed 20 years of imprisonment, the parole officer asks him then he responds that “I absolutely regret. I had received lessons and I have already changed into a person who will not be harmful to society. I swear to god.” But he got rejected. From this case, Red really want to go out of prison but as we know, the prison is not a place that shouldn’t be allowed to act like what they went to. After that time, Red never feels that he will go out of prison, the institutionalization has already changed him, so he will not fit into the atmosphere outside of the prison, but Andy changed him again. Andy is his best friend who lasted friendship for 20 years Andy has an impregnable hope for freedom and determination to escape out of the prison and finally Andy successfully escape from prison. Andy left a note for Red saying “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Andy’s positive character influenced Red and he got some inspiration and hope. When he third time seated in front of the parole officer, he knows this is a chance for him to release because he will, he said “I was a young and foolish kid who committed a great sin. I want to sit down and talk to him. Tell him the rules to learn but it will not happen because that kid has already disappeared and only left an old guy.” These words unaffectedly reveal his hope. He felt the time has really changed him from that foolish young kid to now a person who will not bring hurt society. Then he was released from prison successfully. The book Hope…The best of things from Joni Tada has the same opinion of hope as protagonist Andy. It kept him going despite the challenges that he encountered inside.

Life After Prison and Social Assimilation Challenges

This movie presents the challenges faced in the prison. Some make it out successfully while others fail to do so. A prison is an instrument of repression which is used for disciplinary purposes. These are symbols for people to fear the idea of punishment. This form of punishment is life-changing and it may make or break the person’s life. It is said that the adaptation to imprisonment is the most challenging and difficult and creates habits of thinking and acting that can be dysfunctional in periods of post-prison adjustment (Haney, 2001.). This was evident throughout the entire movie since the prisoners were worried about their lives after the imprisonment. It was also mentioned that even after they were already set free, their lives were already different from how it was before they were imprisoned. It is a form of repression since, primarily, the prisoners are physically restricted from freedom. The heavier part of this incarceration is the psychological impact of this imprisonment on the prisoners. The long period of having to face only walls and live in dark cells will alter the way of thinking of the imprisoned. Other people may consider it as a corrective method of punishment but the social and psychological impact of imprisonment are indelible. Prisoners who worked on both behavioral and emotional levels to create a prison mask that is an impenetrable risk of alienation from themselves and others which may result in emotional flatness that becomes chronic and debilitating in social interaction and relationships, and may create a permanent distance between themselves and other people. In long periods of imprisonment, they develop the skill of having to be alone and detached from the people inside and outside the cell. Aside from the fact that they have to be kept from the rest of the community, the idea that they are being punished is another major issue to talk about. Red and Andy, despite being characters of hope, end up being totally changed by their stay in prison. They may have internally changed and planned to commit the same crime again, but society had them marked already as people different from others. The stigma of being an ex-convict will always linger with them no matter where they go, and no matter how changed they are already. As was mentioned, it is a repressive instrument of society that indelibly marks the people who enter the gates of the prison.


The characters in “The Shawshank Redemption” have shown an unbreakable grip on hope which helped them to maintain their sanity during their entire stay inside the prison and even in their lives outside the prison. This hope is juxtaposed with the hopelessness of the consciousness of the prisoner it creates an interesting twist of push and pulls. At the end of everything, it will be hoping that will show you the positive side of life and it will keep you from getting insane with all the repression that you are encountering inside the cold cells of the prison.


Barry, Peter. (1967). Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 2nd ed. New York: Manchester University Press, pp. 95 – 102. Print.

Bovens, Luc. (1999). "The Value of Hope." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 3rd ed. Vol. Lix. Boulder: U of Colorado, pp. 667-81. Print.

Haney, Craig. (2001). The Psychological Impact of Incarceration: Implications for Post-Prison Adjustment. Sta. Cruz: the University of California, Web. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from

Tada, Joni Eareckson. (2008). Hope: The Best of Things. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, Print.

Tyson, Lois. (2006). Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, pp. 12 – 18. Print.


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