TOPIC: Analyse how the
presentation of at least one setting
helped develop an important theme.
• The dictionary defines redemption as “A man’s deliverance from
sin and damnation”. Many believe that it is not possible for
criminals to be redeemed and that the only solution is to put
them in jail and “throw away the key”. In The Shawshank
Redemption, directed by Frank Darabont, the setting of
Shawshank Prison is a powerful one where several of the main
characters achieve a form of “redemption”. First, many prisoners,
through the impetus given by Andy’s Shawshank education
programme, are redeemed through fulfilling the promises
interrupted by the crimes they committed as stupid and wayward
young men. Second, the character of Red redeems himself by
finally coming to terms with his crime and accepting responsibility
for his actions, after having served a long sentence. Finally, the
main character, Andy Dufresne, is delivered from “sin and
damnation” through the sewage pipes of the prison.
• The New England prison, known as Shawshank, is the
central setting for the film. Most of the stories are
told within the prison and the attitude of the judge,
the warden and the parole officer at the beginning of
the film make it clear that prisoners are at the bottom
of the food chain, worthy of nothing but contempt.
The prevailing opinion of the day was that these
violent prisoners should be locked up until they were
of no further use (or threat) to society. Shawshank
Prison was a very unlikely place for anyone to achieve
redemption. Yet, this is a key theme that resonates
throughout the film, with Shawshank as the
• Many of the prisoners in Shawshank were high school
“dropouts” – that is, had not finished high school and
were often functionally illiterate. Andy began an
individualised reading programme as an extension of
his job in the prison library, enabling many of the
incarcerated men to achieve a sense of pride and
independence that they had not encountered before.
Some of the men even receive their high school
diplomas, a feat many of them may have felt was
impossible prior to their time in Shawshank.
Prisoners, caged together and with time on their
hands, often find that they have more determination
to succeed with education while doing their “time”.
• Red is an important man in the prison – that man who “can get
you things”. Early in the film we witness a parole hearing where
Red insists he has been rehabilitated. The Parole Board evidently
feels that his words are false and, ten years later, when we see
Red again rejected for parole, it seems as though he will never
find public redemption. He is a man without hope, who has come
to “depend on the walls” of the prison. However, through his long
association with Andy and following Andy’s escape, Red finds the
courage and inspiration to speak the truth at his third hearing in
the prison and is granted parole. He accepts responsibility for his
crimes and wishes he could speak to the “stupid kid” he was. He
has gradually come to see Shawshank as a temporary stop on his
life path, rather than the end of the road, and feels that he has
paid enough of a price for his crimes.
• Andy, the hero of the film, is the character who
ultimately rejects the prison and everything it stands
for, despite helping to make it a better place for the
inmates at every opportunity. His symbolic rebirth at
the end of the film, where he crawls through a
sewage pipe and comes out “clean on the other side”,
represents the ultimate redemption – that of the
Christian promise of forgiveness, death and
resurrection. The prison in Andy’s case was the beast
to be tamed and conquered on his own journey
towards redemption and his success in this both awes
and inspires the remaining inmates for years to come.
• Shawshank Prison is a foreboding place of little
hope, yet many characters in the film find a form
of redemption within its walls. The prisoners
who gain success though the education
programme have a higher chance of fitting back
into society upon their release. Red grows to
accept that the prison is a place to pay his debt
to society and then to move on. Andy, the
catalyst for the redemption found by the other
characters, fittingly experiences redemption of
the highest kind – escape from oppression and
happiness in his new life.
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