Analyzing Andy and Red from 'The Shawshank Redemption' on Their Own Views on Happiness and Suffering

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What does happiness and suffering means to you? That is very board topic as everybody have their own perception towards it. Personally, humans must experience both happiness and suffering during its lifetime as it is a part and parcel of life. We cannot say that we are only seeking pleasant experience and feeling. Feeling of suffering helps to shape a person’s character and state of mind in order to better appreciate the simplest thing in life to attain the highest level of happiness. Happiness and suffering will be furthered discuss in the movie called ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. In the movie, I will analyze the two main characters: Andy Dufresne (Andy) and Ellis Boyd Redding (Red) on their own perspective of happiness and suffering portray in the movie based on the different theories of philosophy discussed in class that provide an opportunity for me to reflect and define my own happiness and suffering.

Andy Dufresne

Due to overwhelming evidences, Andy was convicted guilty for the murder of his wife and her lover and was given two life sentences in the prison. During the term of stay in Shawshank, Red is well-known in the prison for being the ‘middleman’ to the outside world, thus Andy established a friendship with Red. Prisoners could request almost anything and Red can get it done. Andy requested for a rock hammer the rock to craft rocks to form his own chess set. Andy has an interest of reading, geology, chess and teaching other inmates. The rock hammer has become a key factor for his escape from prison. In the later part of Andy’s stay in the prison, he met a new criminal called tommy Williams and was revealed to be innocent of his crime, something that he was unable to prove that resulted him to be in Shawshank.

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Andy was given a two-life sentence in prison for killing his own wife and her lover. Although he knows that he was wrongfully accused; he still portrays a stoicism personality during his time of stay in prison. According to the Seneca, “Not to stray away from nature and to mold ourselves according to her law and pattern – that is true wisdom” (Seneca, 2008, p.43). It explained that stoicism stresses the importance of being in accordance with nature, accept all the things that happen in life and to endure the pain or hardship without the display of feelings.

Andy’s attitude towards his imprisonment portrays on how he can accept his predicament and eliminate his own suffering. Andy was different from the other inmates as he portrays a carefree attitude. Everything including clothes, identity and freedom was taken away in Shawshank but hope is something that they could not take away from him. Andy never once gives up his sense of hope: “There are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside. that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours”.

To Andy, he believes in hope as a desire, imagination, belief, and thing that is up to him to decide. Andy’s stoicism personality can be supported by a quote from Seneca: “It is the power of the mind to be unconquered, wise from experiences, calm in action, showing the while much courtesy and consideration in intercourse with others” (Seneca, 2008, p.43). “True happiness is found upon virtue” (Seneca, 2008, p.51), shows that Andy's strong-minded personality traits enable him to deal with his negative thoughts by accepting them and approach them in an effective way by focusing on his main intention that leads him to the life he desired.


Andy’s defiance against the warden’s command and received a punishment in solitary for blasting the opera music. Solitary is place that inmates loathe as it causes intense anxiety and deprived of human interaction which is a form of suffering. In the solitary, Andy exhibited another philosophy which is buddha where he eliminates his own suffering and attain a state of non-desire. Buddha uses the Ariyan Eightfold Path leading to the ceasing of woes (Singer, 1994, p.46). Andy cultivated a wholesome state of mind and a positive mental state and a right view throughout the stay in solitary (Singer, 1994, p.46). He reminisces the music repeatedly in his mind and view that solitary is just temporary. He continues to keep him busy mentally, thus this is his own ways to eliminates his suffering by concentrating on his music and avoid negative thoughts.


Andy spread and influence other inmates to believe in hope again through some of his sacrifices. He exhibited his strong financial expertise to help a guard to prepare some documents in exchange for some beers for his fellow inmates. He went to the solitary for blasting the opera through the broadcast. He requested a stack of books and funds from the government to fund the library. All his actions depict another philosophy on utilitarianism. A quote from John Stuart Mill: “The acceptance of the utilitarian standard, is not the agent’s own greatest happiness but the greatest number of happiness altogether and if it may possibly be doubted whether the noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it makes people happy and that the world in general is immensely a gainer in it” (Mill, 1998, p.142).

Utilitarianism recognizes in human being power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others and it determine right from wrong by focusing on outcome. In this case, Andy believed all his sacrifice is worthy to make his fellow inmates feel hopeful. From the scene of ‘beer at the rooftop’ shows the satisfaction on the inmate’s faces, appreciate little things that they are unable to enjoy in prison. The establishment of the library provides the inmate another form of entertainment and education ground for self-improvement. Andy’s sacrifice creates more purpose and activities into the inmate life that make them feel more happier in Shawshank. Other than just making their life better, he got an underlying meaning of getting them to start believing in hope and work towards parole and leave Shawshank.


Andy mentioned on ‘get busy living or get busy dying’. He means that he focuses on keeping himself busy and remain hopeful. He is not doing nothing and waste his life away. Prison is a place that inmates get institutionalized and they lost their purpose in life. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, “Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existing – as he wills to be after that leap towards existence” (Sartre, 1973, p.2). In my opinion, Andy exhibits strong value of existentialism and this can be showed from his action and his determination to define his own meaning in life.

Andy was so determined in finding his own freedom as he did a mission impossible mission by digging his way out of Shawshank using a rock hammer. Andy knew that he required a long time thus he will need many other things to keep himself occupied. Throughout the stay in Shawshank, he volunteers to tar the roof, rebuild the prison library, provide an education plan for an inmate and leverage on his financial expertise to do tax-return for the guards and warden.

In order to not create suspicion, he portrayed to have institutionalized like the rest of the inmates. He slowly begins his quest to escape Shawshank as he started digging using his rock hammer to create his escape route meticulously in the night. He understood that patience is the key or else his effort will be put to waste if he was to be found out during a cell inspection. Hope of attaining freedom by escaping from Shawshank is what kept Andy’s determined and focused in his pursue to fulfill his impossible dreams. The scene when Andy strips off his prison shirt in the showery rains depicts that he finally regained his freedom and all his suffering is worthwhile. He had attained his dream and his desire for freedom.

Ellis Boyd Redding

Next, I will be looking at another inmate in Shawshank. Red is another long-staying inmate and was well-known for being an influenced figure in Shawshank. Red played an important role for Andy’s escape as his strong connection with the outside world allows him to smuggle things for the inmates. Andy and Red came to know each other through a trade but subsequently became best friend. When Andy first entered the prison, red judged that Andy is a weak-minded person and believed that Andy will not be able to adapt and expected him to break down. However, Red was utterly wrong about his perception towards Andy. Andy was calm and displayed no weakness in his mind that caught red’s attention. To Red, Andy was a unique person that is different from the other inmates. Andy portrays a carefree attitude during his daily life in Shawshank. This can be backed by one of Red’s quotes: “He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn't normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place”.


After a long time in prison, Red had been institutionalized in Shawshank and used to the life in prison. He had gradually developed a thinking that his life now revolved around Shawshank as he cannot see what he can contribute to the society in the future. From one of the conversations between Red and Andy, “Let me tell you something about hope my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane, it has no use on the inside. And you better get used to that”. It clearly shows that Red is pessimistic and against of having hope as he already lost faith in his life. He already accepted that he is a criminal and he has no hope in the future and he will be here till the day he died. Although Red already accepted his fate but he is not happy. In fact, he is currently suffering. He fears of his future suffering if he was being released. He knows he got a role in Shawshank as a middle-man supplier. With no control over the future, fearing too much brings Red’s anxiety and suffering and that shaped his personality to be a pessimistic person. Therefore, he is against Andy’s thinking as Red had developed his own philosophy of stoicism.


However, it is also Andy who helped Red to regain his sense of hope. With all the little things that Andy had done, red was slowly being influenced by him to start believing in hope and define his own true meaning of life. Red’s personality started developing a sense of hope and an optimistic attitude towards his life. Some little things that Andy did for Red is giving him a harmonica, making red as his assistant during the tax-return season, and he set a promise with Red that served as a motivation.

Harmonica is something significant for red as it brings back his memories associated with music. Andy intention was hoping that Red will be able to regain some hope by remember his past. Red was even appointed as Andy’s assistant to be involved in the tax-return period. That small action made Red gathered a sense of hope that make him feel that there are many things that can be done if you do not give up hope. Lastly, Andy made a promise with red, to visit hayfield in Buxton when he released from Shawshank. That served as a motivation for Red to work towards parole and fulfil the promise set by Andy.

During the third parole, Red admitted that he is truly remorseful and show clear indication that he regretted his wrongdoing in the past and the board finally decided to grant him back his freedom. Red found himself out of place and had difficulty to fit in the society as the world seemed like an unfamiliar place to him. To Red, he is suffering as he could not find his individual existence in the society despite being free from Shawshank. He was always uncomfortable due to no sense of security in the outside world. Red wanted to break his parole and returned to Shawshank where he has a sense of belonging. However, it took many years for red to be released to regain his freedom. It will be a waste that he ended up back in Shawshank which is doing injustice for himself and letting Andy down. Red recalled his promised made to Andy and the promise is the one that kept him going to pursue a parole which leads him to where he is right now.

The letter is all what Red needed as Andy is the one who understand his predicament and offer him an opportunity to join him in Zihuatanejo. The opportunity reinforces red’s reason for existence and found his purpose in life through the sense of hope to seek for freedom and rekindle his friendship with Andy. Andy played an important role in helping red to regain his hope and guide himself towards freedom.

Own Perspective

From this movie, it is trying to show us the detrimental effect of helplessness as a form of suffering and the importance of being hopefulness to overcome it and attain a state of happiness. ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is using two characters, Red and Andy, portrays the feeling of helplessness and hopefulness respectively.

The movie is trying to tell me that if you developed a sense of helplessness, you will become submissive that everything that happen is not within your control and accept as it is. With no sense of hope, people begin to despair as they have no goal, nothing to look forward to, which resulted them to be passive. Passive causes people to accept the predicament as they believe that no matter what they do, they cannot make any changes in their life. Thus, they will be unmotivated to make a change for their life as they believed that the more effort they put in, the more miserable they become. They are troubled as they are stuck at the same problem helplessly without a solution and that caused long-term suffering to them.

However, the sense of helplessness is not due to the tough circumstances that you are in but more on a person’s thinking and belief. A person with a negative state of mind causes stress and discomfort which may affect his proper state of judgement and cause him to think in a narrow perspective.

The movie shows us another side where it is important to have hope in life for whatever you are pursuing. With hope, it helps people to overcome its negativity and establish its own meaning of life. It also refers to accept everything that has happened to you and concentrate on what you can be in the future. Hope can be lost easily due to tough circumstances where people developed negativity towards life. However, there are many ways to find hope in any situation. Firstly, you must find your goal, clear on your objective and the way to attain it. Secondly, do things that can be done within your mean allows you to discover your self-worth, and the contribution you can make to the world. All these helps to develop your confidence level and slowly discovery your purpose in life. Thirdly, doing a good deed really helps to bring about happiness.

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Analyzing Andy and Red from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ on Their Own Views on Happiness and Suffering. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from
“Analyzing Andy and Red from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ on Their Own Views on Happiness and Suffering.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
Analyzing Andy and Red from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ on Their Own Views on Happiness and Suffering. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Jun. 2024].
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