Demonstration of Communication Theories in the Movie 'The Shawshank Redemption'

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When it comes to the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, I was able to come across several examples of communication theories and how they applied to the movie in each scene throughout the whole movie. The paper is about the exploration of the symbolic interactionism theory and Aristotle's rhetoric theory and how each theory relates to the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. I will explain how each theory is hidden in several scenes throughout the movie.

The movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is based on Andy Dufresne, a banker from Portland who was convicted in the year 1947 for the murder of Linda Dufresne and Glenn Quentin (his wife and her lover). Andy tries to defend his innocence against this accusation, but there was an abundance of evidence. He was sentenced to two life sentences in the prison known as ‘The Shawshank Prison’. Shawshank is a disgusting and cruel facility with morally corrupt guards, acts of violence at every turn, and an abundance of sexual predators. In prison, he begins to build a relationship with another inmate named Red. Andy finds ways throughout the movie to avoid these predators and violent people by offering to help Hadley (the captain of the guards) avoid taxation. In return, he will be provided with protection.

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Analysis One

The first communication theory that I will explore is the symbolic interactionism theory, which was developed by an American philosopher George Herbert Mead in the 1920s. The symbolic interactionism theory is a theory that focuses on the relationships among individuals within a society. Communication—the exchange of meaning through language and symbols—is believed to be how people make sense of their social worlds (West, R., & Turner, L. H., 2018, p. 68). Symbolic interactionism is looking at a particular person day to day interactions and that people share experiences through symbol, and that each of these symbols could change at any time during your life. Each person's reality is based on their interaction with other people and the experiences that are built upon through life. An example of these symbols that could change through time would be a tattoo. When you get a tattoo, it symbolizes something to you, but everyone has a different opinion on them. This opinion can be based on one's culture, experience, interaction with people with tattoos, or how they were raised. Your opinion on the symbol you got might change over time, you might even decide to get it removed.

When diving deep into the symbolic interactionism theory, it is essential to include the assumptions of the theory and the conclusions we can draw from the assumptions. The first assumption of the symbolic interactionism theory is that human actions depend on the meaning of the object. Whatever we do in life depends on the symbols we currently decide to use, observe, or a part of what these objects symbolize can change from people to people or can change over time for an individual. We live our life based on these symbols, the Bible for many people represents the word of God, the right way to live your life. But to some people, the Bible is just an old book full of stories that did not happen. The second assumption is that we give meaning to things based on social interactions and experiences. Since we all have different interactions and different experiences, we all will have a different meaning on what an object symbolizes to us. We all have been raised differently, and we all have experienced different things in life, so it makes sense why we all may have our own meaning of what something symbolizes. This is what creates opinions, my opinion may be different from your opinion because it is precisely what it is my opinion, which is based on my experiences and interactions. Everyone has their own perspective on things they come across in life. There are certain things that we can all agree on what it symbolizes like a drawing of a heart, which symbolizes love or being in love with someone. The third assumption is that the meaning of symbols is not permanent and can change over time. I touch upon this assumption earlier in the paper, but we are going to go more in-depth with this concept. As we age and becoming older, you can expect to go through different experiences and interactions. Through these added experiences, your opinion on what an object may symbolize may change.

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ displays the symbolic interactionism theory in a fantastic way. I will discuss how this theory appears in certain parts of the film. In the film, Andy got a job in the library of the prison, this in a way, represents him climbing up in the ranks of the prison. In the world outside the prison, the library symbolizes a place for knowledge, where you can read and learn about numerous things. The library also Andy's persistence, society's pompousness of the prisoners, the library symbolizes a world beyond the prison, a place where he can live a regular life. Also, the library symbolizes a place of safety for Andy. He has to deal with being captive and locked up with rapists, murders, and crooked guards. In the library, he is able to get away from the things that bring stress to his life. Another example of symbolic interactionism theory would have to be the Rita Hayworth posters that Andy puts up over the hole in the wall that he has been digging. Some may view the poster and think Andy just wants the poster of the beautiful women so he can be aroused. I feel like the poster represents hope, the hope of one day being able to take a breath in the outside world. The dream of one day not being engaged in a cell for something he did not do. Also, the poster represents his desire to escape the Shawshank prison to his old normal life. This shows that one's opinion or idea on something may change over time. This explains why you might think differently now compared to when you were a teenager, and you moved out of your parents, you got to meet people of different backgrounds and cultures than yourself.

Analysis Two

The second communication theory that we will explore is Aristotle's rhetoric theory, which was developed by Aristotle himself during the two periods he was in Athens, first being from 367-347 BCE and second being from 335-322 BCE. Aristotle defines rhetoric as the available means of persuasion. Aristotle's Rhetoric theory focuses on how the speaker uses different tactics to grab the audience or how rhetor can persuade their audience. There are three elements of rhetoric, ethos, pathos, and logos. The first element is the ethos approach which refers to how the perceived character, intelligence, and goodwill of a speaker as they become revealed through his or her speech (West, R., & Turner, L. H., 2018, p. 310). The reputation of the speaker or writer is important to the audience. The speaker is usually an expert on the topic he or she is speaking on. When a speaker is using ethos he or she is known very well by the audience and is established in the topic he or she is speaking about. Extrinsic and intrinsic are the two different methods of ethos. Extrinsic refers to the character and education level of the rhetor. Intrinsic refers to how the rhetor writes. The second element is the pathos approach which focuses on the speaker or writer attempt to appeal the reader or audience's emotions or interest (West, R., & Turner, L. H., 2018, p. 311). The rhetor tries to use the audience's emotions to agree with their ideal. The main goal of the rhetor when using pathos is to get the audience to express any type of emotion whether happy, sad or angry. The last element is the logos approach which is when the speaker persuades the audience by using logical arguments (West, R., & Turner, L. H., 2018, p. 310). These usually involves facts and percentages that are used to support the speaker's argument.

In the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ the lawyer that is attempting to persecute Andy for killing his wife and her lover uses the element pathos from Aristotle's rhetoric theory. The lawyer uses pathos to appeal to the audience in the courtroom when he says, “They had sinned. But was their crime so great... as to merit a death sentence? …A revolver holds six bullets, not eight. I submit that this was not a hot-blooded crime of passion. That at least could be understood, if not condoned… This was revenge... of a much more brutal, cold-blooded nature. Consider this: four bullets per victim. Not six shots fired, but eight. That means that he fired the gun empty... and then stopped to reload so that he could shoot each of them again. An extra bullet per lover... right in the head”. The lawyer uses the question at the being to feel bad about the victim, saying that they did not deserve to murder. Also, the lawyer causes the courtroom to feel angered and disgusted by Andy when he tells them he had to reload the gun to shoot them to more times. This diminish the notation of this crime being a crime of passion.

Another example of Aristotle's rhetoric theory is when during the trial the lawyer also uses logos. The lawyer appeals to the by using logic, he states that Andy has a motive for killing his wife because she was not being faithful to him. Also, he states that Andy keeps a pistol in his car and brings up the bullet on the ground of the scene bearing his fingerprints. In addition to his fingerprints being on the bullets, his fingerprints were on a broken bourbon bottle. The lawyer uses evidence to persuade the audience to convict Andy for killing his wife and her lover. Also, connecting the dots for the jury so they can come to an easy conclusion for Andy.


In conclusion, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is an excellent movie when it comes to demonstrating the two communication theories symbolic interactionism theory and Aristotle's rhetoric theory. The symbolic interactionism focuses on the relationships among individuals within a society. Communication the exchange of meaning through language and symbols is believed to be the way in which people make sense of their social worlds. Aristotle's rhetoric theory focuses on how the speaker uses different tactics to grab the audience or how rhetor can persuade their audience.


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  7. West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2018). Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Publishers.
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