Psychological Issues In Shawshank Redemption

Through the hardships in the prison of Shawshank and hopes to achieve freedom, the characters in Shawshank Redemption present a variety of psychological issues. Throughout Andy and Red’s sentence in prison, issues of identity, motivation, and anxiety are brought about within the storyline. Depicting the affects of prison life during and after a prisoner’s sentence in jail, Shawshank Redemption accurately portrays these psychological issues that revolve around the film’s theme of finding freedom.

During the 1940’s, a young and prosperous banker named Andy Dufresne arrives at Shawshank prison in Portland, Maine after being falsely accused of murdering his wife and her lover. In this high security prison, Andy experiences isolation and harsh treatment. Red, who is also serving a life sentence, befriends Andy and aids others by secretly running as an in-prison supplier of cigarettes, cards, posters, and other items from the outside world. These items give the prisoners a touch of reality beyond the prison walls, especially the poster of Rita Hayworth. Brooks, the librarian, has distributed books to the prisoners for sixty years, but is later is released leading him to committing suicide because he cannot seem to find his place in society. As the years pass by, Andy develops a respect from his inmates and some of the guards by using his banking skills and his education. By assisting the warden, Samuel Norton, with his financial endeavors and trying to get a new library for Shawshank, Andy is able to slowly gain favor with the prison’s authority. However, by helping the warden embezzle money, Andy does not realize that this is hurting his chances of ever leaving Shawshank because the warden does not want to get caught. Andy is taken advantage of and placed in solitary confinement, which further pushes him to find freedom that he secretly has been planning all along. One morning, Andy’s cell is empty and the warden finds an escape route that Andy dug for twenty years with a rock hammer hidden in his bible. In the end, Andy exposes the warden and moves to Mexico where Red will meet him when his time in prison is complete. Hope is what Andy was fueled by and is what gave both Red and Andy willpower to survive and seek for freedom.

In the movie Shawshank Redemption, psychological issues are evident and are portrayed through different characters that are dealing with their individual desire for hope and freedom each having a different “outlook on life.” As the main character, Andy Dufresne has a goal of finding his own identity, which is “an individual’s self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group,” within the prison of Shawshank by taking on different responsibilities and roles. Becoming a prison librarian, a financial advisor, and an educator, Andy begins to cope with the hardships of prison life and finds a place to fit in. Andy, an innocent man, “survives twenty-eight years in prison by making friends, and discovering his identity which leads to escaping Shawshank due to his longing for freedom in the outside world.” In addition, a positive incentive of freedom motivates Red to break parole and move to Mexico to meet up with his former prison-mate Andy. Inside Shawshank, Red is the supplier of goods to the inmates, but in the world outside the prison Red cannot find his place in society, “leading him to break parole.” At first, Red believes he cannot function outside the prison walls because freedom is a frightening concept, but a sense of hope “energizes his behavior and directs him toward the goal” of freedom. Furthermore, Samuel Norton reveals Sigmund Freud’s idea of defense mechanisms by “redirecting anxiety by distorting reality.” Placing Andy in solitary confinement in order to “disguise his threating actions,” the warden places his anxiety on Andy by using the defense mechanism projection. At the expense of others, the warden also promotes his self-interest in the name of “fire and brimstone bible passages,” exhibiting rationalization. Although the story takes place in the single setting of Shawshank prison, characters portray a variety of psychological issues that affect one’s outlook on life reflecting each individual’s idea of freedom.

The different psychological issues discussed, which are explained in detail in the previous paragraph, are accurately portrayed in the film Shawshank Redemption. Clearly, Andy searches for his identity, or “sense of self,” by “unifying various roles to determine a self-definition in order to find a comfortable sense of who he is.” Motivation is displayed when Red escapes to Mexico because his desire to experience freedom, a positive incentive, “repels him to satisfy his motives.” As stated earlier, Sigmund Freud’s defense mechanisms are observable through Samuel Norton’s character. In order to reduce his anxiety, the warden projects his emotions on Andy and tries to rationalize his actions and “promoting his self interest” at the expense of others. Shawshank Redemption authentically depicts the ideas of identity in one’s self, motivation for a specific desire, and reducing anxiety with defense mechanisms.

While analyzing characters’ behaviors in Shawshank Redemption, psychological issues can be found from beginning to end. Throughout the film, the theme of freedom is evident with the use of psychological terms such as identity, motivation, and Freud’s psychoanalytic defense mechanisms. What drives the characters’ actions is freedom to live one’s own, independent life, which does not necessarily come from being outside of prison walls, but rather from one’s outlook or perspective of life. So as Andy says, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

[Resources: Myers AP Psychology Text Book;  ]

Psychology In the Media

Just like Andy, who was in prison for an action he did not commit, Ryan Matthews was found guilty, but was always innocent.  Ryan Matthews said, “he had nothing to do with the 1997 robbery and murder of a grocer…and he knew that someday he would be freed.” Relying on the positive incentive of freedom, Ryan has a sense of hope that, like Red is “energizing his behavior and directing him toward” a more affirmative attitude. This alone drives him to his innocence because without any motivation, Ryan would have given up and entered into a state of hopelessness.

In Del Rio Texas, this prison guard, who was convicted of providing drugs and sexual abuse, relates to Samuel Norton because both abused their power by using defense mechanisms to reduce their anxiety. Projecting their emotions on the prisoners causes tension within the prison. Freud’s psychoanalytic defense mechanism projection disguises threating actions by putting one’s anxiety on someone else, which clearly is indicated through this Texas prison guard. Because of taking advantage of authority, the prison guard and the warden of Shawshank are punished for the wrong doings.

Accused and put in prison for life at only sixteen years old, Barrit Eno explains his day-to-day events that challenge his own identity. As a prisoner, Barrit struggles with his self-concept, which is “derived from a perceived membership in a relevant social group,” and searches to find his place to fit in within the prison. Having the same routine daily, identity is hard to find due to the strict guidelines inside a small boundary. Although convicts are looked down upon, prisoners still are searching for their own identity and self-worth.

Rationalization, one of Freud’s defense mechanisms, is evident in Timothy Rodriguez’s trial of attempted first-degree murder when his defendant states that “Timothy was upset of his breakup and the murder plot was a scam.” By attempting to justify his plan, the defendant “explains his actions and feelings in a way that does not look as threatening.” In Shawshank Redemption, the warden rationalizes his actions by promoting his self-interest to make himself look superior and protect himself from being found guilty. In order to reduce Timothy Rodriguez’s anxiety and disguise his true motivation, rationalization was used to attempt to make Rodriguez look less guilty.

Hundreds of prisoners escape from the Afghan jail by digging a tunnel a quarter of a mile long. Motivation had to have been the cause of this tunnel being dug and completed. These prisoners were focusing on their goal of freedom, which impelled their behavior to finish digging the tunnel no matter how long this process could have taken. Andy displays the same motivation when we digs a tunnel in his prison cell. Throughout the film, Andy secretly works on his escape route while hiding his evidence. Although both cases seem to have been impossible, the positive incentive of freedom repels them to satisfy their motives by risking life in prison to dig a tunnel that stretches, for example, a fourth of a mile long and taking five months to complete.

Different people have different self-concepts of themselves, even in prison. Searching for a place to fit in, Andy was forced to try a variety of roles within the prison walls. The identity of a prisoner is hard to determine not only for the prisoner, but for guards and people observing. Will and Carleton demonstrate two different identities that a prisoner can obtain: one playing the part as a tough guy and the other expressing his true emotions. Defined as an “individual’s self-concept or sense of self,” identity plays a key role within the lives of prisoners because while being trapped in isolation, they are forced to search for their own role in the prison.

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