To be a true existential hero means many things. The majority of a persons actions must be in accordance with the strictly defined beliefs of an existentialist. An existential hero is very conscious of the worth and impact of his choices. He is responsible, lonely, independent, self-reliant and free. Andy Dufresne the protagonist in The Shawshank Redemption written by Stephen King and directed by Frank Darabont exhibits these essential existential qualities. The movie has several existential themes within it, made apparent by Andy’s words and actions. For this reason, it is evident that Andy Dufresne is an existential hero.
In existential philosophy, a great deal of importance is placed on the concept of choice. An existential hero will acknowledge that an individuals decisions belong exclusively to that being. Andy Dufresne never tries to blame external circumstances for the events that led him to prison. He willing admits to Red that through choosing to drive her away he killed his wife. He also doesn’t try to negate the punishment for the murders, for he recognizes that it was his choice to drive to the house of his wife and her lover with a gun, regardless of whether or not he chose to shoot.
Even once within Shawshank he continues to take responsibility for his actions. When he breaks the prison rules and locks himself in the warden’s office to play music over the loud speaker, he does not argue his punishment of two weeks in the hole, despite its excessiveness and cruelty. Andy also exhibits the existential-hero view that there is no predetermined order or fate, but rather that a man’s path is self-determining and dependent on his decisions. When the other inmates experience hope through Andy’s music and library, it is a type of passive hope that one day things would become better for them.
In contrast, Andy does not leave his fate up to chance, but rather makes choices that allow him to take control of his own life. It is align with existentialism’s philosophy of moral individualism that Andy decides to tunnel his way out of the prison twenty years into his sentence. Andy’s actions reveal his acknowledgement of his own personal freedom, regardless of the laws. The philosophy states that one must choose their own way without the aid of standards that are universal and objective, and that a person can not appeal to laws or conventions when making choices.
In his conversation with Red, Andy acknowledges the idea that all life comes down to a simple choice “either get busy living or get busy dying”. Another emphasized existential value that Andy displays is the idea of independence and self-reliance. For months after his arrival at Shawshank prison, Andy doesn’t speak to anyone. Despite his being beaten and victimized brutally by the sisters, Andy does not reach out to anyone for protection or aide. Andy spent twenty years digging a tunnel out of the side of the prison wall and not once does he ask or receive help from anyone.
He does not even tell anyone about his plan to escape, even those he had come to regard as his friends. It is important for an existential hero be aware of scope- the number of people affected by each decision. In his decision to keep his plans for escape to himself Andy is being conscientious of the scope of people affected, because had he disclosed his plan to his friends, the knowledge could have gotten them in very serious trouble. A true existential hero will show unmistakable signs of loneliness, and individuality.
Andy says that his wife has always told him that he is “difficult to know,” and presents himself as self-retreating and independent, qualities often seen in an existential hero. For an existential hero, meaning is found within oneself. Meaning does not come from external events, forces, or material items. I could be argued that Andy Dufresne does not meet this qualification. Andy is not contented with the poor supply of books in the prison library, but rather sends hundreds of letters requesting money for more books. This behavior suggests that Andy places value on “thing-ness” a very non-existential trait.
However, Andy uses the books to build for himself and his fellow inmates a great library where he teaches and helps many to get their high school diplomas. It can be concluded therefore, that Andy was not placing value in the thing-ness of books, but rather the self-improvement that comes from educating oneself. When Andy was sent to the hole for weeks, without the any of the external extremities that most rely on, the unnaturally long sentence should have been enough to drive a person to near-madness. However, the solitude had little effect on Andy.
The music inside of him was enough o keep up his moral. This is because, for Andy, his meaning is found within himself, an attribute absolutely necessary for an existential hero. Andy Dufresne is well aware of the control he has over his own life. His actions are not reflective of societies rules or conventions and he is conscious of the scope of his influence. Much of his life he has been lonely and independent. He does not value material things, and his meaning is found within himself. In conclusion, a majority of the character traits displayed by Andy Dufresne prove him to be an existential hero.
Courtney from Study Moose
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