Although we are often told to act as if that were the case, people of color and those who take their stories seriously know it is not.
American audiences would be no more able to ignore race in The Shawshank Redemption, than they were later that year in the trial of actor and football legend O. As recently as , African-Americans in Los Angeles had rioted when an all-white jury exonerated a group of police officers who had been videotaped beating a helpless African-American, Rodney King.
Likewise, the best-selling Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life proved, if not that intelligence is correlated with race as its authors hoped, then at least that Americans retained a powerful fascination with the idea. The film frankly acknowledges what was obvious to Americans of every political persuasion and ethnic background in , that racial conflict was a serious issue in American life.
Paradoxically, this continuing fascination with race accompanied a growing denial of race as a meaningful factor in American society: although the O. African-Americans understood that, whether or not Simpson was guilty of the crime, this was also a story about the way black men are handled by the justice system. What white Americans wanted was a story about American justice in which race no longer mattered. In this story, racial profiling and racist denigration could be treated as individual aberrations well on their way to extinction in an otherwise color-blind system.
Thus there is nothing in the film to remind viewers that Red was supposed to have been white and nothing but the color of his skin to call attention to the fact that he is not. Simpson trial [Arac 23]. Andy was … that part of me that will rejoice no matter how old and broken and scared the rest of me is. Andy is Red's mystery and ultimately his redeemer, saving him from despair at the frequent rejections by the parole board and ultimately empowering him to "get busy living" rather than giving up or committing suicide like Brooks Hatlen.
A poignant scene in the film shows Red, released from prison but near despair, looking at a display of guns and compasses in a pawn shop window. Remembering Andy's words, he chooses the compass, literally and symbolically setting his life on the correct path. Andy confounds his would-be-rapist with a confident deployment of scientific language about the autonomous response to brain injury entirely false but effective. Simpler than his lead partner, the foil-of-color exhibits little or no moral ambiguity.
Thus, even before Freeman had been chosen, the role was already beginning to embody those characteristics that white audiences have always admired in African-American characters. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did? I look back on the way I was then, a young, stupid kid who did that terrible crime. I want to talk to him; I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are.
But I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left. I gotta to live with that. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit. As written, this speech might be understood as the outburst of one aggrieved man, or more universally as the rebuke of the downtrodden individual to the Kafkaesque machinations of power.
This moment is significant as an indication of the film's potential to confront the unspoken politics of race, as The Defiant Ones had earlier. Instead, that potential is consistently undermined as the film manages instead to deny the reality of those politics altogether. In , when the Marriage of Figaro scene is supposed to have taken place, the African-American population of a Maine state prison would have been close to zero.
Even by the year after Shawshank Redemption was released , that population had reached only 1. Nevertheless, in one shot of roughly inmates in the yard, about eight six percent are black. Shots of the infirmiry and woodshop add at least three to that number, raising the rate to over seven percent.
Although race may not have contributed to the initial decision to cast Freeman as the second principal, its impact on the audience's interpretation of his character would have been far greater set against the otherwise all-white backdrop of an historically accurate mise-en-scene. Thus the film chooses an appearance of racial diversity over historical accuracy and, in sharp contrast to the realities of prison life, a diversity unmarred by any racial identifications or conflicts.
Red remains the exceptional individual insofar as the speaking roles are otherwise exclusively white, but the happily integrated mis-en-scene reassures us that such matters are irrelevant and perhaps always have been, at least since the s. In the script, the landlady who shows Red to his room in the Brewster Hotel is described as "a black woman," one of only two cases where race is actually specified It is presumably a different landlady from the one who, years earlier, shows Brooks Hatlen to the same room. The moment should be one of intense loneliness and alienation, an effect that might have been compromised by the appearance at that moment of a fellow African-American in this otherwise uniformly white Maine town.
It is a small, uncredited role and may not have been cast with these intentions, but one result of the alteration is to prevent even the unintended implication that race might still be of any consequence in America.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Summary & Analysis | Chapter | Study Guide | CliffsNotes
Or, if this was not the right ending for the book, what ending would have been right? In founding its hope for redemption on the myth of the romantic individual, Twain effectively shuts out the public discourse that surrounded the issue of slavery and thus unwittingly exposes the complicity of the liberal tradition in the continuation of racism. Yet there is a paradox.
They're outcasts or misfits against the system, and they link up with one another. In that sense, it's like Huck and Jim on that raft - two men chained together, outside of the established order. In The Defiant Ones , the romantic gesture of lighting out for the territory is sacrificed to allow for a resolution in which Cullen and Joker can presumably live out their new friendship absent their old prejudices. In the end, it is Cullen who gives up on a genuine chance for freedom when the wounded Joker is unable to leap with him onto a northbound freight train. In a gesture ridiculed by black audiences, Cullen jumps off the train, choosing prison with his white friend over freedom on his own.
In at least one film version, Huck gives his money to Jim, but there is never any suggestion of him sacrificing his freedom. However, while King leaves Red, Jim-like, to make his way in the world, Darabont resolves what for modern readers has always been a troubling conclusion to Huckleberry Finn. Yet there are historical reasons for such an ahistorical conclusion. To have left Jim enslaved would have meant questioning the grounds on which the North at least believed it had fought the Civil War.
In his novella, King also leaves us with hope, tempered by our recognition of the psychological and physical obstacles still facing Red. We need triumph. It was only at the suggestion of Liz Glotzer from Castle Rock and after the rest of the film had been shot that he wrote in the unification of Red and Andy on the beach. This is no return to romance, like Huckleberry Finn , but a stark constrast between the cold, gray confinement of the prison and a perfect freedom. Ironically, the old boat that Andy is working on is beached at mid-tide, suggesting though surely Darabont did not intend this suggestion that in only a few hours the beginnings of their new freedom will be undone by powerful forces still operating beyond their control.
Earlier in the film, in the prison yard, the same lines establish Red as a man of some authority within the limited scope of prison life.
Teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Yet what may have made The Shawshank Redemption so satisfying to mass audiences is its ahistorical quality. It might seem curious, then, that this film, whose action from to encompasses most of the civil rights era, could so scrupulously avoid any reference to the dramatic changes that really were being effected then by righteous individuals on the outside.
Time zones, television and public transportation schedules, and even public clocks all reassure us that we do indeed share the same world. For the film's unincarcerated audience, the inmates' isolation from the active outside world allows the Red-Andy relationship to be idealized and dehistoricized, like Jim and Huck safely on the raft in the middle of the river.
Indeed the history of biracial escape narratives beginning with Huckleberry Finn has been a history of attempted escapes from history itself — paradoxically so, insofar as each reflects the psychosocial needs of audiences at its own moment in time. It is indeed interesting that The Shawshank Redemption , arguably the most successful film of this genre, was not written as a biracial escape narrative at all, but became one only through the fortuitous casting of one of the principals.
Topics Mark Twain.
Race Race in education news. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Actually, the first half of the manuscript disappeared twice. Twain couldn't find it in when he replied to a request for an example of his writings from James Fraser Gluck, a lawyer and the Buffalo library's most generous benefactor. So the author sent the second half to him. Two years later, when Twain found the missing pages, he mailed them to Gluck at the library, according to the letters at the Twain Project.