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Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is an American prison drama that follows the story of Andy Dufresne and his quest to overcome his suffering and find freedom in himself. He uses his relationships and jobs to escape the prison society and culture until he is able to make his literal escape. This causes him,... show more Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is an American prison drama that follows the story of Andy Dufresne and his quest to overcome his suffering and find freedom in himself. He uses his relationships and jobs to escape the prison society and culture until he is able to make his literal escape. This causes him, and a lot of other humans that find themselves in the position of a prisoner with life sentence, to live life by the existential principle of existence precedes essence. This means that individuals can choose freely how they will react to the painful existence they find themselves in. The basis to support the existential themes in The Shawshank Redemption are Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The life experiences of the men in these stories have ties to those Andy faces.
Life’s futility can lead to a painful existence. In Camus’s story, Sisyphus being “condemned […] to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain” (757), is the beginning of his completely futile life. The god’s did not think there could be any worse of a punishment than to life out the rest of your existence in futility. According to Camus, our fate only seems horrible when we compare it to something that we would rather be doing. This is much like a life that a lot of the men at Shawshank face. A life sentence would certainly make ones’ life futile. What does one do when they are handed a life sentence? A person cannot make plans for tomorrow, much less five, ten, or twenty years down the road. The prisoners cannot do anything to get out of prison so why make plans for the future? Red very much has this frame of mind when Andy is telling him about his plans for building a life on a beach in Mexico. Red tells Andy that his dreams are too big, “I don't think you ought' a be doing this to yourself, Andy! This is shitty pipe dreams! I mean Mexico's in the way the hell down there, and you're in here, and that's the way it is” (Daarabont)! To which Andy responds, “Get busy living, or get busy dying” (Daarabont). Andy goes against everything that Camus is trying to teach us. He finds meaning in his life by making plans for the future.
Once you enter Shawshank a prisoner is never the person they were before they came in. It strips them of their identity and reforms them into an “acceptable member of society.” In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” Gregor wakes up one morning with his physical appearance completely different from his previous one. His internal appearance seems to take longer to make the transition. He is, in the beginning, stripped of only his physical identity, but eventually is totally and completely bug like. One way this is done is through alienation. When a person is in prison they are alienated from society, much in the same way that being a bug further alienates Gregor from his family and society. Gregor never really was a true member of society. All he did was work. He did not participate in cultural activities or really interact with his family. Prison is very much an allegory for the pain and suffering, and alienation from everyday life. It is a very literal representation of the oppressions of society. Prison is a society unto itself. Once you become part of this society you can never truly reenter the “normal” society that everyone else lives in. Once a convict always a convict. Andy losses his identity when he goes to prison, but not in the way that most people think. In a sense he keeps his real job by being an accountant of sorts for the warden and other prison guards but he losses his real self. Andy says at one point in the movie, “On the outside I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook” (Daarabont). This is ironic. Most people go to prison because they are crooks. They do not suddenly become crooks upon entering prison.
The relationships we have in our life give us purpose and define who we are. Once Gregor metamorphosis’s into the bug, his sister takes it on as her responsibility to care for him. This relationship seems to get Gregor through life. If he had to rely solely on his mother and father to care for his needs, Gregor might have died sooner. Andy overcomes his suffering by befriending different people in the prison. His three most important relationships would have to be with Red and Hadley. His relationship with Red is important because it helps him be more human in a very inhumane place. Andy would have been totally detached from humanity had he not found friendship in Red and his gang of life timers. His relationship with Hadley is a little easier to understand. Befriending the guard that everyone is scared of gives you a one up on everyone. As soon as Andy starts giving financial advice and help to the guards and warden he is no longer raped by the “Sister’s.” When he takes Tommy study for and pass his GED test, it gives Andy a type of purpose. He is no longer in prison simply committing crimes but he is hel
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