Crawl Through the Sh*t – 11 Lessons from “The Shawshank Redemption”
Not long after the warden deprived us of his company, I got a postcard in the mail. It was blank, but the postmark said Fort Hancock, Texas. Fort Hancock… right on the border. That’s where Andy crossed. When I picture him heading south in his own car with the top down, it always makes me laugh. Andy Dufresne… who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. Andy Dufresne… headed for the Pacific
On its surface, Frank Darabont’s 1994 masterpiece, The Shawshank Redemption, is a Hollywood-standard prison flick. The film’s true beauty, though, comes in viewing Shawshank Prison as a metaphor that which restrains our everyday lives. Seen as such, The Shawshank Redemption is a modern-day fable of universal truths.
1. Leave the Gun: The film opens with Andy Dufresne accused of his wife’s murder. Although innocent, Andy is damned to Shawshank by his fingerprints on the bullets near his wife’s home. Drunk and confused, Andy dropped them as he left. Don’t give in to anger; had Andy simply left his gun and ammunition at home, he would have walked a free man.
2. Make informed decisions: Red first misinterprets Andy’s quiet nature as pride, saying Andy has a “silver spoon up his ass.” Lucky for Red, he isn’t blinded by ignorance. He takes the time to know Andy and builds a friendship which ultimately rewards him with freedom.
3. Buy that Man a Beer: When Andy squares a financial matter for the Guard Captain, all he asks for in return is a few beers for Red and his friends. Drinking “Bohemia-style beer” and with “the sun on [their] shoulders…like free men,” Andy gains an invaluable group of friends inside the prison. Moving furniture or tarring the plate factory roof—a few beers go a long way to repay a man.
4. Find a Hobby: In a prison or working 9 to 5, some days pass slower than others. Andy battles malaise with rock carving, a hobby which hatches his plan to escape Shawshank. A good hobby can stir the weary spirit and lead us to happier vocations.
5. Remember Zihuatanejo: Over the course of his 20 years in Shawshank, Andy is raped, beaten and made a puppet for evil. Never once, though, do we see him despair—because he remembers Zihuatanejo: the Pacific city “with no memory.” Having a ‘happy place,’ be it a place or a goal, recharges our spent batteries.
6. Serve Others: Every action in the film depends on one character serving another. Red gives Andy the rock hammer. Andy leaves the means for Red to cross into Mexico. Andy, through his tutelage of Tommy, learns of his wife’s real killer, absolving his guilt. Even in cooking the crooked Warden’s ledgers, Andy paves the way for his escape. Do something for someone else, the rewards are greater than mere money.
7. Appreciate the Beauty of Women: We’re not talking Kim Kardashian here. Andy’s lesson is to admire women for both their beauty and their skill. First Rita Hayworth, then Raquel Welch, the women on Andy’s posters weren’t coveted for mere looks, but rather for the substance of their abilities.
8. All it Takes is Time and Pressure: Andy, writing a letter a week for six years, receives funding to renovate the prison library. Tunneling night after night, Andy manages to achieve the impossible—escape Shawshank—in only 20 years. Red says it best: “Oh, Andy loved geology. I imagine it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time.”
9. Crawl Through the Sh*t: Sometimes, to reach our goals, we have to trudge through bullsh*t. Andy, in escaping via Shawshank’s sewage pipe, literally “crawled through a river of sh*t and came out clean on the other side.” Makes sitting through a mid-afternoon status meeting seem easy in comparison.
10. Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying: Spoken by Andy and echoed by Red, this line serves as Shawshank’s reminder that life is lived, not experienced. Andy and Red succeed in escaping Shawshank because they take agency in their own lives rather than be slaves to circumstance.
11. Above all else—Hope: Hope is The Shawshank Redemption’s thesis. The closing minutes of the film repeat the word ‘hope’ as if a mantra, and it is with the word ‘hope’ that the narration ends. Andy repairing his boat on the Pacific shores, Red walking toward him, the film’s final shot is hope incarnate, and damn if it doesn’t make me cry every time.
Keith Good is a writer, husband and father living in Ohio. His fiction has most recently appeared in The Punkin House Digest and Yesteryear Fiction.
photo credits: streeat89