Study Guide

The Shawshank Redemption Brooks (James Whitmore)

Brooks (James Whitmore)

The Slow and the Not So Furious

For someone who's a prison inmate and at one point pulls a knife on his own friend in an effort to remain there, Brooks Hatlen is a total sweetheart. He's got a kindly smile, he's a big animal lover, and he hasn't killed anyone in years.

When he's let out of Shawshank, though, he has a rough time adjusting to life on the outside. "The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry," he says. Technically he's now free, but is he really? When he got locked up several decades ago, he'd started to carve out a life for himself. He knew what was what, and had some idea of how to exist in the world. Then suddenly he's thrust into a foreign place with thousands of cars, people dressing totally differently, all sorts of new, weird technology in use. It's as if he's been released into another country where the customs are at odds with what he once knew, and no one speaks his language. What's more, he can't just buy a ticket back home because it's like that everywhere.

We can almost understand it when Brooks opts out, then. It's not that he's grown tired of the world—it's that the world doesn't even exist anymore in his eyes. Despairing that he'll never know any kind of normal life, he carves "Brooks was here" into a wood beam in his apartment and hangs himself. It's a poignant moment in the film. We've learned to love the guy. It's a statement about how easy it is for folks to become "institutionalized," so dependent on the structure of a prison or a hospital that they find it impossible to function on the outside.

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