6 Powerful Lessons You Can Learn From The Shawshank Redemption

Tom Stevenson
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4MuEpB_0XoPCV0i00Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

If you were asking people to compile a list of their top ten films, I’m sure most people would include The Shawshank Redemption on that list. Since its release in 1994, the film has gone on to be widely regarded as one of the greatest ever made.

It tells the tale of Andy Dufresne, who is imprisoned in Shawshank for two life sentences after he was convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. The film follows Andy’s beginnings in the prison and his time there as he comes to terms with his life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.

It’s easy to look at the film and see the simple narrative of a man who is falsely accused, suffers in prison and earns his redemption at the end. However, there are many deeper subplots in the film that are worth exploring.

I watched the film again a few days ago and realised just how many of these strands there are. These are often the parts of the film you miss on the first viewing. Once you watch it back, however, they become more obvious. So obvious that you wonder how you could have missed them in the first place.

Not only is Shawshank a fantastic film, but it also has plenty of lessons to teach us in regards to how we lead our lives. The redemption arc of the story is one example, but seeing as that is the foremost point of the film, I’ve decided not to explore that.

Instead, I’ve looked at other parts of the film and how they can teach us about what’s important in life, justice and many other topics. Far from just being vehicles of entertainment, films can be tools for teaching too.

Jurassic Park is a classic example of the dangers of genetic engineering and the consequences of chaos theory, while The Dark Knight shows us how even people with the best intentions can be corrupted.

The Shawshank Redemption has multiple life lessons woven into its fabrics. It’s a fantastic film and one I defy anyone to dislike. Here are a few of my thoughts on what you can learn from the film.

Hope is a good thing

One of the main themes of the film is hope. Throughout the film, we see how the idea of hope is debated between the main characters. In one scene where Andy plays classical music over the prison’s speaker system, he stated that they couldn’t take the music away from him while he was in solitary confinement.

Red, his friend and the narrator, challenges him on his assertion that it’s important to have hope. He believes that its futile in an environment such as a prison, especially when you’re serving a life sentence. Hoping that you might one day be released is unhealthy as he believes the hope is false.

As the film progresses and Andy escapes with Red granted parole, the debate changes. Red follows Andy’s directions to a tree in the middle of the country in Maine where he uncovers a box with money and a note. In the note, Andy again mentions hope, and how it is a good thing, maybe the best of things.

When Andy first entered Shawshank, it’s likely he felt despondent at his circumstances. Serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, without almost any hope of getting out. These circumstances would break most of us. Yet, when he realised that he could tunnel through the wall in his cell and out to freedom, his hope would have been rekindled.

The parallel with our own lives is important to consider. There are moments when we believe all hope is lost. That there is no point going on because there is little chance of things becoming better.

This line of thinking is doomed to fail as your thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you will fail, then you will. Instead, it’s better to live with hope. To believe that things can and will get better. No matter how bleak your circumstances, there is always the potential for them to be better.

Life without hope is like a banquet without wine.

Persistence pays off

Andy spent over twenty years in Shawshank. During those years, he relentlessly chipped away at his wall until he had tunnelled all the way through and out to the other end.

I know it’s only a film and didn’t happen in real life, but the message it sends is an important one: persistence pays off. In my own life, I have seen how important this mentality can be. If you’re not persistent and persevere when things get tough, you’re going to struggle.

I started my travel blog back in 2015 with no real goal in mind other than to give myself a creative outlet. Slowly but surely, I realised that I could make decent money from the blog. The money wouldn’t just appear in my lap, I had to work hard to get to a point where it was bringing in $1000 a month.

At some points, I was close to giving up. I didn’t work on my site for over a month after I moved to Barcelona in September 2015. It was the desire to create that pushed me to start working on it again and when I saw the traffic start to increase, I became more and more motivated to continue plugging away.

Overnight success is rare. What you don’t see is the work that goes on behind the scenes. The hours of toil every day only to move a few inches forward. The same applied to Andy. How disheartened must he have been in the first few months of his endeavour when he made little to no progress in tunnelling through the wall.

He also had the disadvantage of not knowing how thick the wall was. Yet, he kept on going regardless. This is what we have to do. Success is achieved by those who face up to obstacles rather than cower away from them.

If you can face the obstacle in the road, master it, and leave it behind, you’ll achieve your goals. It’s a slow process, but as Andy showed when he escaped from Shawshank, the reward is great.

If you don’t take chances you’ll never know

During the early part of Andy’s time in Shawshank, he’s selected to work on tarring the roof on one of the prison’s buildings along with Red and a few other of his friends.

As they are tarring the roof, Andy overhears a discussion between the captain of the guards, Byron Hadley and one of his men. Hadley is complaining about how he will be taxed on the inheritance he has just come into. Despite the protestations of the group, Andy walks over to Hadley and asks if he trusts his wife.

Taking a dislike to Andy’s line of questioning, Hadley grabs him by the scruff of the neck and holds him close to the edge of the building, threatening to throw him off. At this moment, Andy declares that he knows how Hadley can keep his inheritance without paying a penny in tax.

After explaining how, Andy is sent back to work and rewarded with beers for him and his crew once the work is finished. Andy then goes on to do the tax returns for all the guards, and eventually oversees the warden’s finances.

Had he followed the advice of his friends, Andy would have minded his own business and continued to tar the roof. Instead, he decided to take a chance and offer Hadley a solution to his problem. The concerns of Red and others were valid, but Andy felt like it was a chance worth taking.

While not as extreme, situations like these crop in our lives all the time. Moments where we can take a chance and act, or let them pass by without doing anything.

The quality of your life is governed by the number of opportunities your willing to grasp and the chances that you are willing to take. If you take a chance in life, you’re going to have a static and boring life. It’s when you step outside of your comfort zone and push yourself to be better, to take risks and to grasp life by the horns, that it becomes better.

In the end, it comes down this adage, it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.

What goes around comes around

The warden of Shawshank prison is a demagogic figure who rules with an iron fist. Despite his appearance as a Christian, his actions are anything but. He exploits prisoners as a for-profit workforce and has one of the inmates shot when he states he has evidence Andy is innocent.

Eventually, all his lies and deceit come tumbling down when Andy escapes and mails a copy of the warden’s accounts to a local newspaper. Rather than face the music, the warden decides to commit suicide by shooting himself.

Early on in the film, we see a quote hanging on the wall of the warden’s office which states: “His judgement cometh and that right soon.” There is an argument to be made that the warden was merely using religion as a way to hold power over the inmates. This quote sets him up as the man that makes the judgements in the prison, who holds their fate in his hands.

Throughout history, there have been similar examples to the warden. Men who rise up, promise salvation and wield their power in an authoritarian and gruesome manner. Hitler, Nero and Mussolini are a few that come to mind. All of them had a fall from grace after their lies and hubris were found out.

Hitler promised to build a thousand-year Reich, yet it barely lasted fifteen years. These figures ride high when times are good and their position is comfortable but once the lies and the hypocrisy of their position becomes clear, they always face their comeuppance.

You can only cover up lies for so long. Sooner or later, the truth comes out, whether you want it to or not.

Your time is everything

Serving one life sentence would be enough to demoralise even the most strong-willed of people, never mind two. Despite this, Andy was willing to make the most of his time and dedicate it to tunnelling his way out of the prison.

This was not the only way he made the best use of his time. He turned the library from a ragtag collection of books into a functional unit where people could read and browse books. He also put his efforts into improving the fortunes of his fellow prisoners by helping them get their high school diplomas.

In life, there is alive time or dead time. You can either spend your time wisely on projects and tasks that will improve your life, or you can waste it watching endless shows on Netflix or videos on YouTube. The choice is yours.

How you spend your time determines the quality of your life. Malcolm X faced the same issue when he found himself in prison. He had a lot of time on his hands which he could have spent doing nothing. Instead, he read book after book and educated himself. He read so many books that he needed glasses afterwards due to the strain on his eyes!

Once he left prison he became one of the most prominent civil rights activists in America. None of this was pre-ordained or a path that he set out to follow. It was due to making the most of the time that he had available.

All of us have the same 24 hours. All of us have a choice about how we use those hours and what we do with the time we’re given. Those who make an effort to make the most of their time they’re given will be the ones who have the best quality of life.

To echo a phrase from the film, you either get busy living, or you get busy dying.

Change is inevitable

An overlooked part of the film is the three times that Red finds himself before the parole hearing board. While you might not remember much from these scenes, apart from the fact that Red was rejected parole twice and granted it during the third hearing, they are revealing.

During the first hearing, five elderly white men decide whether Red is granted parole or not. Given that it’s 1947 at the time, this isn’t too unusual. However, as the years progress the board becomes more and more cosmopolitan. There isn't much change ten years later in 1957.

But by 1967, two years after the first hearing, things are much different. The lead office is a much younger man than the previous two encounters and this time there is a woman at the table. This a reflection of the changes in attitude and society from the 40s to the late 60s.

It’s one of the details that makes Shawshank such a great film, but unless you’re aware of it, it’s easy to overlook. It’s a subtle way of showing that as time progresses, things change.

Whether we like it or not, one of the cast-iron guarantees of life is that change can and will happen. 2020 has been a prime example of this. Our lives have been upended by a virus no one was even aware of a year ago. The upheaval has been huge and will change society in many ways.

Instead of raging against change, it’s better to make peace with it and accept its inevitability. The world is a much different place to what it was one hundred years ago and the same will be true one hundred years into the future.

Lamenting change and a longing for the past is to live in the past. Instead of making the most of the changes that occur, you are yearning to return to a time that has been and gone. I’m sure there were many people in society who were aghast that women were entering into more areas of the workforce, but once the change has started it’s impossible to stop.

None of us can roll back the clock, nor should we want to. Change is what makes life interesting, we should welcome it not rail against it. Without it, we’d live in a very boring world.

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