The Shawshank Redemption Essay
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The following paper will focus on the ethical issues that occurred in the 1994 film Shawshenk Redemption directed by Frank Darabont. Focus will be made on specific scenes that represent clear ethical violations of not only the criminal justice system, but as well as the corrections system here in America during the 1940’s through the 1960’s. Several ethical issues involving Andy Dufrense, the main character, arise involving him, his friends (other inmates), the guards, and the warden. Ethical principals of concern and importance identified and portrayed in the film are as follows: financial loop holes for guards, creating false accounts, slave labor, abuse of power, and money laundering, and murder.
Shawshenk Redemption focuses around Andy Dufresne, a banker wrongfully convicted of two murders; his wife and her lover in 1947. Andy is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at Shawshenk Prison, in Maine. Once at the prison Andy becomes best friends with another inmate named Red. Red has been in prison for a long time and is repeatedly denied parole again and again.
Chief Guard Bradley is another important character. He is the head guard at the prison who evokes fear in the inmates and frankly treats the inmates like animals.
Ultimately the most important character when it comes to the topics of ethics is the Warden at Shawshenk Prison, Samuel Norton. When Andy fist meets the Warden, he tells Andy there are two principals in the prison, the bible and the Warden. “I believe in two things; discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord. Your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank” (Warden Samuel Norton). Andy was an accountant before he was falsely convicted and he was able to get respect from the guards and the warden because he was able to give financial advice.
The power that he gained by giving financial advice he used for good, not evil. Andy was able to obtain library books for the inmates’ and build on the prisons library. Andy was an honest, decent man that tried to make life bearable in prison. Andy states in the movie, “On the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to become a crook”. Andy was violently beaten and sodomized several times by a group of men in the prison called, The Sisters, before the Chief Guard Bradley and Warden Norton found out about his financial background and frankly the “worth” of Andy.
Once they were aware of his financial background and how it could benefit them, Chief Guard violently attacked the leader of The Sisters and demanded they never bother Andy again. Andy had protection, and once Andy realized this, he then began to use his power for documenting false reports for Warden Norton. Of course, Warden Norton was unaware that Andy was keeping a second set of books. Andy was in fact laundering money into an account only he had access too. Yes, Andy used his power to help the inmates build up their prison library by getting books.
He assisted a young inmate in getting his GED. Andy also uses the Wardens financial schemes to build a case to bring him and the entire corrupt prison down. To me, the money laundering is payback for the years he falsely sat in prison. Andy’s best friend, Red, is the leader of their little group in prison. As an older man, he has adjusted to immorality of prison life. He sees the suffering and wrong doing of the other inmates, Chief Guard Bradley, and he seems to understand the evil power of the Warden and does what he has to do to survive in prison.
He is a good guy and a good friend and his only downfall seems to be cigarettes, posters, and magazines from outside of the prison. All of those items are considered contraband and are illegal in any prison. Red laughs when Andy asks him to obtain a pick hammer and a poster of Rita Hayworth. Andy needs these items for his great escape however Red has no idea about it. Red’s freedom comes by skipping parole. Red, like Andy, abuses how power with people in a more positive way, He helps others have a more bearable time in prison amongst total chaos and corruption. Red committing the small unethical act of skipping parole was on rder to fulfill the greater food, seeing his friend Andy and living a good life of freedom.
Chief Guard Bradley abused his power to instill fear and the respect he thought he deserved as the head guard in the prison. It was necessary for him or his staff to commit the crimes they did against the inmates. He committed most of his unethical acts in order to gain the respect, not of the inmates, but of Warden Norton. Warden Norton has to be, without a doubt, the most unethical character in the movie. I guess that should be expected since he was the character with the most power.
He allows the guards to beat and intimidate the inmates and uses prison labor for public works. He received kickbacks from this scheme which unbeknownst to him, Andy sets up in his name in a secret account. I feel the most unethical thing Warden Norton did was commit murder. The inmate that Andy helped get his GED, presented evidence that his former prison cell mate committed the murders of Andy’s wife and her lover; not Andy. Warden Norton needed Andy, and he feared he would be found out about the kickbacks. He needed Andy financially, so the inmate with the information to free Andy had to die.
Even in the face of fear, Warden Norriton uses his power to keep Andy in his place. Ethical Implications It seems as though Shawshank Prison functioned as a hierarchy of ethics. If the top leader, the warden, is unethical, it seems to stream down in a scandal of unethical actions by many. If the leadership in any organization is unethical, many will function unethically in order to stay in their positions. Recognizing unethical behavior can sometimes not be easy; people try to rationalize and try to justify their actions as excuses for their behavior.