The Shawshank Redemption tells a story that, in many ways, exhibits themes found in Greek mythology. As is true for many Greek myths, the film features a heroic character that possesses intellect, wit, morals, and honor (Wickersham 99). …
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Narrated by an older prisoner named Red, the film gives its viewer information about Andy primarily through the external perspective Red provides, and Red sees in Andy many reasons to pay close attention. Red’s way of telling Andy’s story is one of the first attributes of the film to hint at the possibility that Andy is a larger than life character of potentially mythic—and heroic—proportion.
Since the film is set in the 1940s, the viewer instantly recognizes differences in the legal system as well as the treatment of prisoners from how those things are today. This remove from contemporary times serves to emphasize the mythical atmosphere of the film, so the viewer more readily accepts the ideas set forth. We quickly identify Andy as a person of uncommon qualities. Although he comes from a middle class background and has no prior criminal record, he maintains his composure during his transition into prison and his first overnight. As the more experienced inmates make bets about who will cry during their first night in prison, some put their money on Andy. They are disappointed to find that not only is he not the first to cry, but he does not make any sound at all.
As soon as Andy arrives at the prison, he is subjected to cruelty, abuse, and even torture. Although he fights against the prisoners who torment him, he is outnumbered by them and can not protect himself. From this early point in the film, one can identify the features of the mythological hero in Andy. According to Campbell, the hero often finds himself in a world that suffers from a “symbolic deficiency,” and feels compelled to set it right (30). The deficiency can be spiritual, as in a fallen world, or it can be physical, as in a world of ruins (Campbell 30). It is undeniable that the world Andy descends into when he arrives at the prison is deficient. He has to pull a maggot out of his food during one of his first meals, he suffers physical abuse from prisoners and guards alike, and above all else he is serving a prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. Considering this, it seems his prison world’s deficiency is merely an extension of the greater society’s depravity. Despite the phenomenal abuse, Andy’s mind remains solvent and he maintains his ability to plan and strategize. When he overhears one of the prison guards, Captain Hadley, complaining about the money he is going to lose to taxes, Andy seizes the opportunity. Although it is an immense risk, he presents Hadley with financial advice that eventually results in the exchange of Andy’s financial services for goods provided by Captain Hadley. Andy does not ask Hadley for something for himself, but instead requests cold beers for all his workmates that were with him that day, a seemingly selfless action. This kind of selflessness and largesse is evident also in the actions of the hero figure in mythology. Wright describes mythological heroes as people who “through extraordinary actions, save the group, change the world,” and commit other meaningful acts (146). For example, Heracles of Greek mythology possessed incredible physical strength that gave him the power to change things in his environment for the better (Grimal 185). He defeated a beast that was causing problems for herders, and killed the Stymphalian birds that were destroying Arcadian crops (Grimal 187). Heracles used his physical abilities to engage in these selfless, world changing actions. Though Andy did not slay beasts in prison, he did devote energy toward significant and world changing activities. Buying beers for his friends was not the limit of Andy’s meaningful acts. Not long after he made the request for
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