Study Guide

The Shawshank Redemption Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Andy's stay in the ordinary world doesn't last very long, at least from our point of view. He doesn't even make it out of the opening credits before his life takes a drastic detour. All we see/know of him right off the bat is that he's a banker, and he's on trial, and not for banking fraud.

Call To Adventure

Tt's not a "call" so much as it an "involuntary sentencing." Andy's adventure is thrust upon him when he's driven through the gates of Shawshank.

Refusal Of The Call

We see one inmate break down and lose his…composure…the first night at Shawshank. Not Andy. For him, "refusal of the call" isn't a refusal to accept that he's really in prison, but rather a refusal to accept that's the way it's going to be for the rest of his life. This guy's middle name is "grim determination." All right, so he's got two middle names. His parents were weird that way.

Meeting The Mentor

Andy meets Red, the older, wiser inmate who helps our hero get acclimated to life in the big house. Although an argument could certainly be made that Andy is just as much a mentor to Red, since he's the one who actually instills hope in the other, long after he'd given up entirely. Who knows—maybe Brooks is the mentor? He sure has taught that crow a thing or two.

Crossing The Threshold

That first chip taken out of his cell wall is Andy's way of crossing the threshold, from lasting despair to the tiniest glimmer of optimism. Hey, some thresholds just take twenty years to cross.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Andy has no end of obstacles thrown in his path as he strives to flee the coop. He's got Bogs, who takes a liking to him in a most unflattering way; Captain Hadley, who comes close to introducing him to gravity; and Warden Norton, the most corrupt boss this side of New Jersey.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

We can look at the inmost cave as either the actual, literal tunnel Andy has to crawl through, or the metaphorical cave in his mind, through which he…nah, too pretentious. We'll just go with the tunnel.


It isn't a smooth ride making his way to freedom. Andy has to tie his belongings to his foot and drag them behind him, smash a hole in a sewer line, crawl through a mile of unmentionables, and get out before the search party comes after him.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

We can pinpoint this exact moment—it's when Andy comes out of the sewer, tears off his prison shirt and lets the rain wash over his newly freed body. Probably not as freeing as the hot shower he'll get the next day at the Ritz-Carlton, complete with scented bath soaps, but still pretty nice.

The Road Back

Andy might be outside Shawshank, but he's certainly not free or clear yet. He has to put his plan into action, withdrawing all the money in Randall Stevens' accounts, and then sending the incriminating documents to a local paper. Geez. Can't a guy get a day off?


Once Andy crosses the Mexican border, finds his way to Zihuatanejo, and buys himself a boat, he has fully and officially rejoined the world, and in a much more satisfying way than he ever lived before he was incarcerated. Take that, 9 to 5.

Return With The Elixir

Andy isn't totally complete, though, until Red joins him in Mexico. Freedom and fat stacks of cash are nice and all, but "a man is nothing who does not have friends." Or however the saying goes.

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