Analysis of The Shawshank Redemption

Summary The Shawshank Redemption is a story about a man named Andy Dufresne, who is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. He is sent to Shawshank Prison where he must adapt to the brutal reality of prison life. Along the way, he forms friendships, conducts business transactions, and smuggles contraband. He also faces violent encounters with the Sisters and corrupt authority figures. Through his financial skills and determination, he manages to transform the prison library and steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from corrupt Warden Norton before escaping from prison. Red, a fellow inmate, reflects on his memories of Andy and his own journey from prison to freedom. After serving 40 years in prison, Red is released on parole and struggles to adjust to life outside of prison until he receives a letter from Andy, offering him hope and a chance for redemption.

Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique The screenplay's plot is well paced with thrilling moments that keep the audience glued to their seats. The character development is impressive, especially with the way Andy's financial expertise helps him survive in prison and his bond with Red and other inmates. The climax of the story is skillfully weaved with powerful emotional moments.
Suggestions: The screenplay could use a few more moments to develop the backstories of the supporting characters like Heywood and Tommy. Additionally, the script could have benefitted from more explicit clarification about how Andy obtained the warden's money, and how he managed to escape from prison with the hole in the wall. Lastly, while the ending is emotionally resonate, it may have been more impactful if the audience had seen more of Red's struggles after his release and how he rebuilt his life.

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:

Andy Dufresne

Andy Dufresne is a meek and reserved banker who is falsely accused of a brutal double murder. He is intelligent and resourceful, always adapting to his harsh surroundings in prison through determination and quick thinking. He is kind-hearted and empathetic towards others, shown through his concern for an unknown deceased inmate and his efforts to help Brooks adjust to life outside of prison.


Red is a charismatic and resourceful veteran prisoner who serves as a mentor and leader to other inmates throughout the movie. He is initially skeptical of Andy's chances of survival in prison, but becomes intrigued by his intelligence and resilience. Red is wise, observant, and perceptive, and is respected among his fellow prisoners for his humor and resourcefulness. He runs a successful contraband smuggling business and is supportive of Andy's schemes. Red is Brooks' closest friend and offers him support and guidance after his release. He is initially resistant to the idea of hope and redemption but transforms throughout the movie and becomes a beloved confidant who symbolizes the idea of redemption.


Andy is intelligent, resourceful, quick-witted, and determined. He adapts quickly to life in prison and demonstrates a talent for financial management and cunning schemes. He maintains hope and optimism despite the confines of prison, and is empathetic towards his fellow inmates. He is committed to education, self-improvement, and helping others.


Norton is a corrupt warden who uses his power to exploit those around him. He is willing to look the other way on criminal activity in order to further his own interests. He is cynical and dismissive of any possibility of redemption or justice, and is a cruel and manipulative figure within the prison. Despite this, he seems to feel some loyalty towards Andy and respects his financial knowledge.


Tommy is a complex character who evolves throughout the movie. He starts out as a cocky, loyal hustler with a reading disability. As he grows older and spends more time in prison, he becomes more emotional and introspective. He is grateful for Andy's guidance and hopeful about his future. However, his ambition and optimism ultimately lead to his tragic death at the hands of corrupt prison guards.

Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Andy Dufresne Andy's character arc in the screenplay revolves around his desire for freedom and redemption. He starts out as a vulnerable and weak inmate, adapting to the harsh reality of prison life. However, he slowly gains the respect and admiration of his fellow inmates through his acts of kindness and resourcefulness. Throughout the film, he works tirelessly to prove his innocence, eventually escaping prison and finally achieving the freedom he has been longing for. However, his victory is bittersweet as he is forced to leave his newfound friends behind, ultimately leading him to find redemption through helping others. The character arc for Andy is well executed and serves the story well. However, it could benefit from more moments of vulnerability and struggle, particularly in the earlier parts of the film where he is still adjusting to life in prison. Additionally, the shift from his desire for freedom to his desire for redemption could be more clearly developed, as the change feels somewhat abrupt.
To improve the character arc for Andy, consider adding more scenes that showcase his initial struggles in prison and his gradual growth and adaptation. Additionally, it could be helpful to further foreshadow the eventual shift in his motivations towards the end of the film. One way to do this could be through small, subtle moments of self-reflection or introspection throughout the story.
Red Red's character arc begins as a jaded and cynical long-time prisoner who has resigned himself to his fate. He sees potential in Andy and tries to help him survive in prison, but is initially skeptical of his idealism. However, through his friendship with Andy and witnessing his resilience, Red begins to believe in hope and redemption. He becomes a supportive ally and eventually gifts Andy a harmonica as a symbol of their enduring friendship. After his own release from prison, Red is initially anxious and struggles to adapt to life outside of prison. He fears he will never make it on the outside, but finds hope and redemption through his friendship with Andy and ultimately reunites with him after realizing that there is more to life than just the walls of Shawshank. The character of Red is well-developed, but his transformation from a jaded inmate to a believer in hope and redemption could be more fully explored. While his arc is satisfying, it would be more impactful if his doubts and struggles were shown in greater detail. Additionally, more focus on Red's past mistakes and their impact on his character development would strengthen his arc.
To improve Red's character arc, the screenplay could include more scenes of Red struggling with his doubts and beliefs. It would also be beneficial to add more backstory to give greater insight into his past mistakes and how they have shaped his character. This could be achieved through flashbacks, conversations with other inmates, or a deeper exploration of his relationship with Brooks. Overall, adding more depth and complexity to Red's transformation would create a more compelling character arc.
Andy Andy starts off timid and embarrassed, but quickly adapts to the harsh realities of prison life. His determination to maintain his dignity drives him to start smuggling contraband. He uses his financial knowledge to help himself and others, and demonstrates a talent for financial management. He is sympathetic to Brooks' struggles and works to help him adjust to life outside of prison. He transforms the prison library and lobbies to make the prison conditions better, and ultimately escapes from Shawshank to take revenge on the corrupt warden. Through his experiences, he learns the importance of perseverance, self-improvement, and hope. The character arc shows Andy's growth and transformation throughout the movie, but it could benefit from more emphasis on his emotional journey. While he demonstrates strength and resilience, his internal struggles and moments of vulnerability are underdeveloped. Additionally, his character could benefit from more flaws and challenges to make his journey more compelling.
To improve the character arc, consider exploring Andy's emotional journey and internal struggles more deeply. Give him more flaws and challenges to overcome, such as doubts about his own innocence or moments of weakness that threaten his resolve. Additionally, consider adding more complexity to his relationships with other characters, particularly his friendship with Red, to add depth to his character and make his journey more compelling.
Norton Throughout the movie, Norton's corrupt actions catch up with him. He is forced to confront the consequences of his abuse of power. In the end, he resorts to desperate and violent measures to silence anyone who could expose him, ending with the brutal murder of Tommy Williams. His downfall highlights the futility of using power to control others and the eventual karmic retribution that awaits those who abuse it. The arc overall is well-executed, providing a fitting conclusion to Norton's character. However, some may argue that his sudden outburst and violent behavior at the end comes across as somewhat contrived and forced.
To improve the arc, the movie could have provided more foreshadowing or build-up to Norton's eventual breakdown. This would help to make his actions feel less sudden and more organic to his character and actions throughout the movie.
Tommy Tommy's character arc is one of growth and tragedy. He starts out as a youthful inmate who is confident in his criminal skills, but struggles with basic reading comprehension. As he spends more time in prison, he becomes more reflective and open to change. Andy's mentorship gives him hope for a better future, and he begins to study and work towards getting his GED. However, his ambition ultimately leads to his downfall. When he shares his story about a criminal he knows who claims to have committed a murder that Andy was wrongly convicted of, Tommy mistakenly believes that this revelation will exonerate Andy and lead to his release from prison. Instead, he gets killed by corrupt guards who are threatened by the possibility of their wrongdoings being exposed. Tommy's tragic death serves as a reminder of the dangers of speaking truth to power. The character arc is well-developed and realistic, but could benefit from more depth in certain areas. For example, Tommy's struggles with reading are briefly mentioned but never fully explored. Additionally, his emotional growth could be more clearly defined and connected to his personal experiences in prison. Finally, his optimism and ambition could be more nuanced and balanced with a darker sense of realism.
To improve the character arc, more screen time could be devoted to showing Tommy's struggles with reading and how they impact his sense of self-worth. Additionally, Tommy's emotional growth could be more clearly connected to his experiences in prison, such as witnessing violence or feeling alienated from his family. Finally, Tommy's optimism could be more realistically balanced with a sense of pessimism or fatalism, to add more complexity to his character.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
Injustice and corruptionThe trial of Andy for the murder of his wife and her lover is portrayed as rigged. The guards and warden of Shawshank Prison are shown to be corrupt and brutal, exploiting the prisoners' labor and suppressing any opposition. The real culprit is revealed but ignored by those in power, leading to the demise of innocent individuals.This theme explores the unfairness and dishonesty in the justice system and the abuse of power by those in authority. It highlights how corruption can lead to wrongful convictions and the suffering of innocent people.
Hope and redemptionAndy's friendship with Red and his determination to maintain his humanity in prison uplift both himself and his fellow inmates, bringing a sense of hope amid their bleak lives. Andy's escape and his gift of the letter to Red offer the possibility of redemption and a better future for those who have been imprisoned.This theme represents the resilience of the human spirit and the power of hope in the face of adversity. It shows how even in the darkest of places, people can find ways to improve their lives and look forward to a better future.
Survival and adaptationAndy, Red, and other prisoners are forced to adapt to the harsh realities of prison life, using their skills and ingenuity to survive. Brooks, however, struggles to adjust to the free world after being released from prison and eventually takes his life, showing the difficulty of adapting to life outside of prison after spending a significant amount of time incarcerated.This theme explores the challenges of survival and adaptability when faced with adverse circumstances. It raises questions about the long-term effects of incarceration and the difficulty of adjusting to the outside world after being imprisoned for a long time.
Friendship and camaraderieThe relationships between Andy and Red, as well as other prisoners, serve as a representation of the vital role friendship and camaraderie play in making life bearable. Their bonds are strengthened through shared experiences and support.This theme highlights the importance of friendship and social bonds in the context of imprisonment and provides an insight into the way that relationships can sustain people and offer comfort in times of hardship.
Individuality and self-expressionAndy's love of books, music, and art in prison allows him to channel his personal eccentricities and maintain his sense of individuality. Red's internal monologue reflects a shift from resisting change to embracing it, highlighting the power of self-expression in achieving individual growth and happiness.This theme deals with the idea of individuality and self-expression in challenging circumstances, emphasizing that personal expression can help maintain humanity and foster growth, even in restrictive environments.

Screenwriting Resources on Themes


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Studio Binder Movie Themes: Examples of Common Themes for Screenwriters
Coverfly Improving your Screenplay's theme
John August Writing from Theme

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