Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption Introduction
In A Nutshell
Killer clowns, telekinetic murderous rampages, haunted hotels, and…the undying nature of true friendship?
Stephen King, known by many as the Master of Horror, threw audiences for a loop when he wrote Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, a story that details a one-of-a-kind friendship between two convicted inmates and how one of the inmates pulls off a gutsy (and frankly rather poop-laden) escape. The novella—a fancy word for a short novel—is a far cry from the shrieks and scares we often associate with King, which might explain why it was included as part of King's Different Seasons collection.
Get it? Different. We guess even the Master of Horror himself needs a break from the keep-the-light-on-at-night stories he is so well known for.
Most people discovered this story via its 1994 movie adaptation, which bombed on its initial release, but found new life after being nominated for seven Academy Awards and endlessly rebroadcast on cable TV networks. Seriously, this film has been aired on cable at least once every one or two months since 1997. But the book's always been there, lending the movie its most powerful moments and asking for nothing in return.
The story's themes focus on issues of imprisonment and injustice. Andy, the hero, is thrown in jail for a crime he didn't commit, while his buddy Red is the only person in prison truthful enough to admit that he dun it. In prison, they're placed at the mercy of "honest" wardens and guards who are totally corrupt and make money on scams that should put them inside the walls with the prisoners they exploit and brutalize.
Red and Andy both survive decades in the prison's bleak, gray environment, "institutionalized" until they can't even remember what it's like to function on the outside. In Shawshank, audiences see how Andy holds onto hope and makes life worth living while in prison, and helps teach Red to look at things the same way. Over the course of the story, Andy makes a boatload of money for a corrupt warden, then (spoiler alert!) pulls off a straight Houdini after spending twenty years digging a hole in a wall. Overall, the story drives home some nice points about not giving up even when things look bleak, and about how the joys of life come from inside rather than outside. As we said, it's kind of weird that this is all coming from a guy who loves to scare the pants off of us, but since it's such an awesome book, we'll let it slide.
Why Should I Care?
Human beings have the potential to be some pretty resilient creatures, but sometimes it can be hard for us to get back on our feet once we've been knocked down. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is such a great story because it reminds us of the importance of staying positive no matter what your circumstances. Andy has it rough—imagine being imprisoned for a crime you didn't even commit—but he builds a secret world within himself, separate and removed from the harsh realities of daily life in jail. With this inner strength, he shrugs off all the blows that Shawshank rains down on him and, even more importantly, he inspires other prisoners, like Red, to do the same.
We can learn some valuable lessons from Andy. Granted, most of us haven't been to prison, but we've all felt hopeless or desperate at some point in our lives, be it the result of a difficult work environment, an intolerant community, or the rough parts of high school—mean classmates or tough teachers—sooner or later, it starts to feel like prison. Shawshank shows us how to create an inner world to protect yourself from life's low points, reminding us to be patient, persistent, and to focus on what brings us joy. Lessons like that never go out of style, not as long as there's someone out there stuck watching the clock, wishing he could be anywhere else.