IF you haven’t read this Stephen King novella, you might have at least seen its famous movie adaptation – known as The Shawshank Redemption (1994), starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. It so happened that I watched the film for the first time on TV the other day, and barely a week later I found the story in a Stephen King compilation I bought. It is part of a four-story series called Different Seasons, published in 1982.
Andy Dufresne is a high-flying, middle-class American banker… until he is arrested and charged for the murder of his cheating wife and her lover. Despite being innocent, he is sentenced to life at the Shawshank State Penitentiary. At the prison, he meets Red, an Irish man doing time for murder. Red is what the others call ‘someone who gets things’ in the prison, and not long after Andy is incarcerated, he requests for a Rita Hayworth poster and a rockhammer, which he convinces Red that he needed for his geology and rock sculpturing hobby from rocks he picks up in the prison’s exercise yard. Over the years, the two develop a close friendship.
In his early days, Andy is relentlessly raped by a gang of predatory inmates, dubbed ‘The Sisters’. He fights back the best that he cans, but often emerges bruised and beaten within an inch of his life, while the corrupt guards turn a blind eye.
While working on a roof tarring project, Andy overhears the guards talking about tax returns, and using his expertise as a former banker, boldly volunteers a solution so that the latter can keep his money. After that, he has the protection of the guards and the Sisters bother him no more. He is also allowed his own cell without having to share with the other prisoners. He continues using his resourcefulness and skills to help the guards and eventually the equally corrupt warden to legally cheat money in the form of taxes and laundering, which earns him benefits in the prison. He is elevated to the position of library keeper, and turns the place into the best prison library in New England.
One day, Andy hears from a new prisoner called Tommy that his former cellmate in another jail bragged about the killing of Andy’s wife and lover – proving Andy’s innocence. Despite the possibility of a retrial, Andy is brutally crushed by the warden, who thinks he is too useful to be allowed to walk free + he has evidence of his wrongdoings. Resigned to the fact that he would probably never get out through legal means because of the warden, he hatches another plan to escape…
The story is narrated through Red in first-person. One thing I’ve always admired about King is his brilliant story-telling skills. While I love his horror novels, some of his dramas are equally riveting.
Red’s character becomes a real-life storyteller, who is sitting just next to you and recounting Andy’s life story, and at the same time, some of his own. Through his narration, the reader develops a genuine liking for the aloof but highly intelligent Andy Dufresne, and starts rooting for him to triumph over the evils that are the supposedly ‘good’ forces : namely the prison warden, guards and justice system in general.
For the lazy ones who don’t wanna read there’s always the film, which is equally brilliant. The casting, the incredible acting and the plot is stellar. It’s no wonder the film is considered one of the Top 100 films of all time. There are some slight changes here and there in the movie, but I think it enhanced the storyline instead of impeding it, unlike many films who try to put in a ‘plot twist’ to be different from the book but ending up destroying the book’s original essence.
Highly recommended read! 9/10.