"The Shawshank Redemption": The Philosophical Character Analysis

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"The Shawshank Redemption": The Philosophical Character Analysis essay
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What do happiness and suffering mean to you? That is a very board topic as everybody has their own perception of it. Personally, humans must experience both happiness and suffering during their lifetime as it is a part and parcel of life. We cannot say that we are only seeking pleasant experiences and feelings. Feeling of suffering helps to shape a person’s character and state of mind in order to better appreciate the simplest thing in life to attain the highest level of happiness. Happiness and suffering will be furthered discuss in the movie called The Shawshank redemption. In the movie, we will be analyzing on the two main characters: Andy Dufresne (Andy) and Ellis Boyd Redding (Red) on their own perspective of happiness and suffering portrayed in the movie based on the different theories of philosophy discussed in class that provide an opportunity for me to reflect and define my own happiness and suffering, Andy Dufresne

Due to overwhelming evidence, Andy was convicted guilty for the murder of his wife and her lover and was given two life sentences in the prison. During the term of stay in Shawshank, Red is well-known in the prison for being the ‘middleman’ to the outside world, thus Andy established a friendship with Red. Prisoners could request almost anything and Red can get it done. Andy requested for a rock hammer the rock to craft rocks to form his own chess set. Andy has an interest in reading, geology, chess, and teaching other inmates. The rock hammer has become a key factor for his escape from prison. In the later part of Andy’s stay in the prison, he met a new criminal called Tommy Williams and was revealed to be innocent of his crime, something that he was unable to prove that resulted in him being in Shawshank.


Andy was given a two-life sentence in prison for killing his own wife and her lover. Although he knows that he was wrongfully accused; he still portrays a stoicism personality during his time of stay in prison. According to the Seneca, ‘Not to stray away from nature and to mold ourselves according to her law and pattern – that is true wisdom’ (Seneca, 2008, p.43). It explained that stoicism stresses the importance of being in accordance with nature, accept all the things that happen in life, and to endure the pain or hardship without the display of feelings.

Andy’s attitude towards his imprisonment portrays how he can accept his predicament and eliminate his own suffering. Andy was different from the other inmates as he portrays a carefree attitude. Everything including clothes, identity, and freedom was taken away in Shawshank but the hope is something that they could not take away from him. Andy never once gives up his sense of hope. “There are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside. that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.”

To Andy, he believes in hope as a desire, imagination, belief, and thing that is up to him to decide. Andy’s stoicism personality can be supported by a quote from Seneca ‘it is the power of the mind to be unconquered, wise from experiences, calm in action, showing the while much courtesy and consideration in intercourse with others.’ (Seneca, 2008, p.43). “True happiness is found upon virtue,” (Seneca, 2008, p.51) shows that Andy's strong-minded personality traits enable him to deal with his negative thoughts by accepting them and approach them in an effective way by focusing on the main intention that leads him to the life he desired.


Andy’s defiance against the warden’s command and received punishment in solitary for blasting opera music. Solitary is a place that inmates loathe as it causes intense anxiety and deprived of human interaction which is a form of suffering. In the solitary, Andy exhibited another philosophy which is buddha where he eliminates his own suffering and attains a state of non-desire. Buddha uses the Ariyan eightfold path leading to the ceasing of woes (Singer, 1994, p.46). Andy cultivated a wholesome state of mind and a positive mental state and a right view throughout the stay in solitary (Singer, 1994, p.46). He reminisces the music repeatedly in his mind and view that solitary is just temporary. He continues to keep him busy mentally, thus this is his own way to eliminates his suffering by concentrating on his music and avoid negative thoughts.


Andy spread and influence other inmates to believe in hope again through some of his sacrifices. He exhibited his strong financial expertise to help a guard to prepare some documents in exchange for some beers for his fellow inmates. He went to the solitary for blasting the opera through the broadcast. He requested a stack of books and funds from the government to fund the library. All his actions depict another philosophy on utilitarianism. A quote from John Stuart Mill “The acceptance of the utilitarian standard, is not the agent’s own greatest happiness but the greatest number of happiness altogether and if it may possibly be doubted whether the noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it makes people happy and that the world, in general, is immensely a gainer in it” (Mill, 1998, p.142).

Utilitarianism recognizes in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others and it determines right from wrong by focusing on the outcome. In this case, Andy believed all his sacrifice is worthy to make his fellow inmates feel hopeful. From the scene of ‘beer at the rooftop’ shows the satisfaction on the inmate’s faces, appreciate little things that they are unable to enjoy in prison. The establishment of the library provides the inmate with another form of entertainment and education ground for self-improvement. Andy’s sacrifice creates more purpose and activities into the inmate life that makes them feel happier in Shawshank. Other than just making their life better, he got an underlying meaning of getting them to start believing in hope and work towards parole and leave Shawshank.


Andy mentioned on ‘get busy living or get busy dying’. He means that he focuses on keeping himself busy and remain hopeful. He is not doing anything and wastes his life away. A prison is a place that inmates get institutionalized and they lost their purpose in life. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, “Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existing – as he wills to be after that leap towards existence.” (Sartre, 1973, p.2) In my opinion, Andy exhibits a strong value of existentialism and this can be shown from his action and his determination to define his own meaning in life.

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Andy was so determined in finding his own freedom as he did a mission impossible mission by digging his way out of Shawshank using a rock hammer. Andy knew that he required a long time thus he will need many other things to keep himself occupied. Throughout the stay in Shawshank, he volunteers to tar the roof, rebuild the prison library, provides an education plan for an inmate, and leverage on his financial expertise to do tax-return for the guards and warden.

In order to not create suspicion, he portrayed to have institutionalized like the rest of the inmates. He slowly begins his quest to escape Shawshank as he started digging using his rock hammer to create his escape route meticulously in the night. He understood that patience is the key or else his effort will be put to waste if he was to be found out during a cell inspection. The hope of attaining freedom by escaping from Shawshank is what kept Andy’s determined and focused in his pursuit to fulfill his impossible dreams. The scene when Andy strips off his prison shirt in the showery rains depicts that he finally regained his freedom and all his suffering is worthwhile. He had attained his dream and his desire for freedom.

Ellis Boyd Redding

Next, I will be looking at another inmate in Shawshank. Red is another long-staying inmate and was well-known for being an influenced figure in Shanshawk. Red played an important role in Andy’s escape as his strong connection with the outside world allows him to smuggle things for the inmates. Andy and Red came to know each other through trade but subsequently became best friends. When Andy first entered the prison, red judged that Andy is a weak-minded person and believed that andy will not be able to adapt and expected him to break down. However, Red was utterly wrong about his perception of Andy. Andy was calm and displayed no weakness in his mind that caught red’s attention. To Red, Andy was a unique person that is different from the other inmates. Andy portrays a carefree attitude during his daily life in Shawshank. This can be backed by one of the Red quotes “He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn't normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, as he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place.“


After a long time in prison, Red had been institutionalized in Shawshank and used to the life in prison. He had gradually developed thinking that his life now revolved around Shawshank as he cannot see what he can contribute to society in the future. From one of the conversations between Red and Andy, “Let me tell you something about hope my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane, it has no use on the inside. And you better get used to that.” It clearly shows that Red is pessimistic and against of having hope as he already lost faith in his life. He already accepted that he is a criminal and he has no hope in the future and he will be here till the day he died. Although Red already accepted his fate he is not happy. In fact, he is currently suffering. He fears his future suffering if he was being released. He knows he got a role in Shawshank as a middle-man supplier. With no control over the future, fearing too much brings Red’s anxiety and suffering and that shaped his personality to be a pessimistic person. Therefore, he is against Andy’s thinking as Red had developed his own philosophy of stoicism.


However, it is also Andy who helped Red to regain his sense of hope. With all the little things that Andy had done, red was slowly being influenced by him to start believing in hope and define his own true meaning of life. Red’s personality started developing a sense of hope and an optimistic attitude towards his life. Some little things that Andy did for Red are giving him a Harmonica, making red as his assistant during the tax-return season, and he set a promise with Red that served as a motivation.

Harmonica is something significant for red as it brings back his memories associated with music. Andy's intention was hoping that Red will be able to regain some hope by remembering his past. Red was even appointed as Andy’s assistant to be involved in the tax-return period. That small action made Red gathered a sense of hope that makes him feel that there are many things that can be done if you do not give up hope. Lastly, Andy made a promise with red, to visit hayfield in Buxton when he released from Shawshank. That served as a motivation for Red to work towards parole and fulfill the promise set by Andy.

During the third parole, Red admitted that he is truly remorseful and shows a clear indication that he regretted his wrongdoing in the past and the board finally decided to grant him back his freedom. Red found himself out of place and had difficulty fitting in the society as the world seemed like an unfamiliar place to him. To Red, he is suffering as he could not find his individual existence in the society despite being free from Shawshank. He was always uncomfortable due to no sense of security in the outside world. Red wanted to break his parole and returned to Shawshank where he has a sense of belonging. However, it took many years for red to be released to regain his freedom. It will be a waste that he ended up back in Shawshank which is doing injustice for himself and letting Andy down. Red recalled his promise made to Andy and the promise is the one that kept him going to pursue parole which leads him to where he is right now.

The letter is all that Red needed as Andy is the one who understands his predicament and offers him an opportunity to join him in Zihuatanejo. The opportunity reinforces red’s reason for existence and found his purpose in life through the sense of hope to seek freedom and rekindle his friendship with Andy. Andy played an important role in helping red to regain his hope and guide himself towards freedom.

From this film, it is trying to show us the detrimental effect of helplessness as a form of suffering and the importance of being hopefulness to overcome it and attain a state of happiness. Shawshank is using two-character, Red and Andy portray the feeling of helplessness and hopefulness respectively.

The film is trying to tell me that if you developed a sense of helplessness, you will become submissive that everything that happens is not within your control and accept as it is. With no sense of hope, people begin to despair as they have no goal, nothing to look forward to, which resulted in them being passive. Passive causes people to accept the predicament as they believe that no matter what they do, they cannot make any changes in their life. Thus, they will be unmotivated to make a change for their life as they believed that the more effort they put in, the more miserable they become. They are troubled as they are stuck at the same problem helplessly without a solution and that caused long-term suffering to them.

However, the sense of helplessness is not due to the tough circumstances that you are in but more on a person’s thinking and belief. A person with a negative state of mind causes stress and discomfort which may affect his proper state of judgment and cause him to think from a narrow perspective.

The film shows us another side where it is important to have hope in life for whatever you are pursuing. With hope, it helps people to overcome their negativity and establish their own meaning of life. It also refers to accept everything that has happened to you and concentrate on what you can be in the future. Hope can be lost easily due to tough circumstances where people developed negativity towards life. However, there are many ways to find hope in any situation. Firstly, you must find your goal, clear on your objective, and the way to attain it. Secondly, do things that can be done within your mean allows you to discover your self-worth and the contribution you can make to the world. All these help to develop your confidence level and slowly discover your purpose in life Thirdly, doing a good deed really helps to bring about happiness.

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Expert Review
This essay delves into the profound topics of happiness and suffering through an analysis of the film "The Shawshank Redemption." The author's comprehensive exploration of various philosophical theories and their manifestation in the characters' experiences is truly commendable. The essay effectively connects concepts like stoicism, Buddhism, existentialism, and utilitarianism to the characters Andy and Red, revealing their distinct perspectives on happiness and suffering. The depth of analysis demonstrates a keen understanding of both the film's narrative and the philosophical concepts discussed in class.
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What can be improved
Introduction Enhancement: The essay could benefit from an introduction that more succinctly introduces the central theme of happiness and suffering in the context of the film "The Shawshank Redemption." Providing a brief overview of the film's premise and its significance would help set the stage for the subsequent analysis. Structural Organization: While the essay largely maintains a coherent structure, each section could be more distinctly introduced. Clear subheadings for each philosophical theory (e.g., "Stoicism," "Buddhism," etc.) could aid in guiding the reader through the essay's analysis and prevent potential confusion. Detailed Examples: Expanding on specific scenes from the film that illustrate the characters' experiences within each philosophical framework would bolster the essay's argument. This could involve citing dialogue, actions, and interactions to provide concrete evidence for the points made. Synthesis of Theories: In the concluding section, the essay could offer a more synthesized perspective on how the characters' journeys intersect with multiple philosophical theories. This would highlight the complexity of human experiences and emotions, emphasizing that different philosophies can contribute to a holistic understanding of happiness and suffering. Real-world Implications: While the essay effectively discusses the characters' development, it could extend its analysis to discuss how the lessons from the film can be applied to real-world situations. This could add depth to the conclusion and connect the philosophical concepts to broader human experiences. Grammar and Clarity: A few instances of grammar and clarity issues are present in the essay. Careful proofreading could address these concerns and enhance the overall readability.
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