Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”

I’d like to welcome a friend of mind, Cammi Woodall, to the blog today. She is sharing with us her favorite author…

Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Of all the authors who could have penned the above quote, Stephen King probably never entered your mind. What words do you think of to describe a King novel? Horror, terror, despair? Vampires and killer clowns running amok in small New England towns?

All true. Stephen King is, well… the King of Horror Fiction. Many of his novels include graphic depictions of violence and brutality.

Underneath these gritty themes, however, lies hope. Not just hope for some, but hope for all, no matter your appearance, age, background, economic situation, perceived abilities, race, gender… Hope for anyone willing to grasp it and never let it go.

Most of King’s stories revolve around ordinary people thrust into incredible circumstances. Whether it is a clique of misfit children battling a centuries-old evil, a veteran and his friends trying to dismantle a mysterious dome encircling their town, or survivors of an apocalyptic super-virus struggling to rebuild at the world’s demise, hope drives King’s characters in their fight against evil, whether supernatural or human-made.

My favorite story that best represents this theme of hope is a novella from the book Different Seasons, titled “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption”. Told in the first person, the story is narrated by Red, an inmate at Shawshank Correctional Facility. While Red narrates, his tale is about his friend, Andy DuFresne. Accused of a double murder, Andy maintains his innocence. His standoffish manner and calm determination turn the jury against him and he is sentenced to back-to-back life sentences in Shawshank. He’s basically never getting out.

If you’ve only seen the movie based on this novella, you need to read the story. Books and stories unfold so differently from their cinematic offspring. The movie does a good job by casting Morgan Freeman as Red and letting him narrate over the action, but there’s just no feeling like words unfurling on paper, your fingers itching to flip pages to see what happens.

Red takes us through Andy’s years in Shawshank. A loner at first, Andy soon becomes a member of Red’s group after an incident while tarring a roof. This also leads to him becoming a financial ‘pet’ for the warden and prison guards. Before long, Andy is doing taxes and filling out legal paper work for the employees. The warden recognizes his intelligence and soon has the inmate conducting an elaborate money laundering scheme.

Despite his friends and new consulting position, Andy’s life in Shawshank is far from easy. I warn you: this is a Stephen King story about a men’s prison. These men are serving hard time for crimes they committed. While detailed descriptions are not given, what is conveyed in crude terms and language lets you know exactly what is happening. Andy is targeted by a clique of bullies who torment him. He fights but doesn’t always win. No matter, because he fights again. He is repeatedly beaten and abused, but each time rises to carry on. He never gives up hope.

One afternoon in the prison yard, Andy tells Red about a small town in Mexico called Zihuatanejo. Dreams of the azure waters of the Pacific and what his life could be sustain him through the gritty reality of imprisonment. He tells Red of a tree standing sentinel in a field in Buxton, Maine, shading a stone fence. When Red gets out, Andy asks him to go to that tree and look for an unusual rock.

A tragedy near the end of the book tears Andy apart and it scares Red. For the first time since he entered the gates of Shawshank, Andy seems hopeless. Red suffers through a fright-filled night, afraid of what his friend might do in his lonely cell at the end of the block.

I will stop there. If you want to read the story, it’s best not to know beforehand what happens to Andy.

Jump forward several pages and Red is now a free man. Time has marched forward without him and he struggles to match a new fast paced rhythm. He thinks how men often commit a new crime just to get back to the familiarity of bars and the routine of someone dictating when you can eat or go to the bathroom. He also thinks of a tree in a field. He thinks of his friend.

After weeks of searching, Red finds that tree in a sun-dappled field. He also finds a letter with the quote that opens this paper. It isn’t a long note, but powerful enough to make the ex-con cry. I cried too, because no good thing ever dies.

Our story ends with Red, a man rightfully imprisoned for 38 years, sitting on a bus staring out the window, a representation of the cell and bars where he’d been incarcerated. But he sees beyond the walls and glass to the endless expanse of sky before him. He is a man who hopes to see his friend again and shake his hand. A man who hopes the Pacific is as blue as in his dreams. A man, though beaten down and repressed for his wrongdoings, now sees the beauty of life and possibilities of his future.

A man who hopes.

That’s how the novella ends. In Red’s own words; I hope.

The first time I read Shawshank, I pictured Red on that bus reaching out with both hands to grab the beauty life holds for him. As I read each of his wishes, I couldn’t help but think of my own declarations.

I hope to touch the sky from the top of Machu Picchu some day. I hope my family and friends know how much I love them and depend on them. I hope I am using my talents and gifts in the way they were intended.

I hope.

Click to tweet: What words do you think of to describe a King novel? Horror, terror, despair?

Machu Picchu

Writing Prompt: As I stood in line at our local bank, I couldn’t help but stare at the man across the room. Could that be Stephen King? Only one way to find out. I stepped out of line and…

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6 thoughts on “Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”

    • Thank you! I know Stephen King is usually love/hate for lots of readers, but I have been a huge fan of his for years. I appreciate the kind words.

    • Thanks, Amanda! The prompt wasn’t hard for me because I didn’t think of it! I’m guessing Jennifer wrote it. You know Stephen King has always been a favorite of mine.

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