Study Guide

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption Freedom and Confinement

By Stephen King

Freedom and Confinement

"When you're in a pressure-cooker you learn to live and let live or somebody will carve you a brand-new mouth just above the Adam's apple. You learn to make allowances." (127)

Prison's tough—we get that—but it seems to be just as tough for the guards as it is for the prisoners. They have to allow some flexibility and allow the prisoners to have the occasional nice thing, or else they're going to suffer as much as the prisoners. Freedom and confinement are kind of the same for them, and this not the first time King draws connections between the prisoners and the guards.

When you're in stir, you belong to the state and if you forget it, woe is you." (152)

There's an interesting turn of phrase here. King says "the state," instead of "the warden." It's almost as if the prisoners are being confined by some large inhuman entity instead of actual people. The wardens come and go, but "the state" is there to stay. Not a happy thought.

"Andy simply forced him, the way a strong man can force a weaker man's wrist to the table in a game of Indian wrestling." (181)

This duel of wills has a lot to do with freedom, as Andy tries to score some beers for his fellow prisoners. In this story, freedom is about more than wanting it—you have to be tough enough to earn it, just like Andy Skunk Eye's Hadley into giving him what he wants.

"It lasted twenty minutes, that beer-break, and for those twenty minutes we felt like free men." (191)

What does he want? Beer! But why? Oh right, to pretend you're not chained up in a pit like Shawshank.

"They were there to do hard time, and by God and Sonny Jesus, it was hard time they were going to do." (200)

Don't beat around the bush Steve. What kind of time are they going to do?

"I asked him once what the posters meant to him, and he gave me a peculiar, surprised sort of look. 'Why, they mean the same thing to me as they do to most cons, I guess,' he said. 'Freedom. You look at those pretty women and you feel like you could almost not quite but almost step right through and be beside them. Be free." (221)

The symbolism is pretty heavy here as Andy describes what he likes about his pin-up girls. The poster makes him think of freedom, but it also provides him with actual freedom, since it covers up the big hole.

"'I like you right where you are, Mr. Dufresne, and as long as I am warden here at Shawshank, you are going to be right here.'" (309)

Warden Norton is reminding Andy's of how powerless he is in prison. It really doesn't matter to him whether Andy's innocent or not. Norton doesn't like him, so he's going to keep his mouth shut. Period. Confinement seems to come at the whims of colossal jerk.

"'I couldn't do it,' I said. 'I couldn't get along on the outside. I'm what they call an institutional man now." (371)

Red is "institutionalized," meaning he can't survive on the outside world. Prison, it seems is more than a place—it's a state of mind. Of course, if that's true, then you can overcome it with the power of positive thinking like Andy does.

"He'd had the key under the rock in Buxton to worry about for years. Now he had to worry that some eager-beaver new guard would look behind his poster and expose the whole thing." (488)

Andy has to worry a lot about things he can't do anything about. That's as apt a description of confinement as you can find. Even those of us on the outside have to worry about stuff that's out of our control a lot. It's almost as if King wants us to remember the whole "prison in your mind" stuff and how it might apply to us…

"The part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure." (505)

Someone else's freedom seems to make Red happy, even if it confines him a little more. That's what makes Red a good guy, despite the whole killing-his-wife thing.