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Shawshank Redemption

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Shawshank Redemption Paper

In society, one of the most popular forms of punishment for deviant individuals who commit criminal acts is to send them to a correctional facility. Although the rest of society has rejected this person as a result of this behavior - in a restricted setting like prison - people begin to adapt to their surroundings. Inevitably, the longer one stays in this setting, the more institutionalized people become. Criminals will soon readily accept their status as a prisoner as well as establish a new identity within this community. In the film Shawshank Redemption, this is further explored as it follows several characters who spend a significant amount of time being incarcerated. Through their time in jail, they learn to adapt to to their surroundings and essentially create a society in which they are functioning and important members. However, as the incarcerated band together, those who are in charge of them may abuse their power in an attempt to further demoralize the prisoners and increase their own personal and economic gain. By attempting to understand sociological theories such as Functionalism, one can better understand the rationale for some of the behaviors shown by the characters as portrayed in Shawshank Redemption.

The ability to feel like an active member of a society offers fulfillment not only to the person initiating their role in society, but also to others around them. Without the ability to feel like a productive member of society, an individual will feel without purpose and in turn strive to find a way to achieve an accepted role within their community. This desire to be a functioning member of a society is explored in the Functionalism theory. Functionalism can be described as the interdependence of several different aspects of society to create a place where one's individual needs are met. Moreover, while a society has several different parts that make each section unique, it is also vital that all of these pieces coincide to create a stable and homoegenous unit.

With one piece of society out of order, the rest will follow suit and gradually disintegrate until equilibrium is reestablished. Because of the sensitive infrastructures of civilzation, individuals looking to integrate into their respective community will try to find their niche and use it to establish important roles so they can become an essential part of their surroundings.
In a more restrictive setting like prison, it is more difficult to establish the same homogeneity because the individuals that make up that society are individuals who have already disrupted the civility in mainstream. Moreover, in Shawshank Redemption, two characters, Red and Brooks, learn to integrate themselves into the Prison community and create a sense of equilibrium without completely disrupting their already uncertain environment.

The character Red in Shawshank Redemption utilizes his ability to network as well as his rapport with other prisoners to become a staple within the prison community. Known as "the guy to go to when you need something", Red establishes himself as a respected member of this society and, in turn, offers stability to the rest of the prison population by offering his services to individuals in efforts to create a more comfortable and consistent environment. Although it is clear that some of the objects Red obtains for his fellow inmates are unacceptable - for example, the posters of popular female actresses he secures over the years for Andy Dufresne - it is generally accepted by other members of the prison population as to not throw off the normalcy amongst the other inmates throughout Shawshank.

Brooks also represented the key points of functionalism. Brooks, an older prisoner who had spent a majority of his life in prison, also had become a functioning member of Shawshank. He was solely in charge of maintaining the Prison library and rarely was his respected role as the librarian challenged by either the prison population or the employees. More interesting, however, was that while the prison essentially relied on Brooks to provide a service for them, Brooks also relied on the prison environment. After being institutionlized for a number of years, Brooks adapted to life as a prisoner and, eventually, being a prisoner was the only role he knew. Further, his status allowed him to feel fulfillment within the confined and depressing conditions in which he lived. However, once he was released into the free world, Brooks lost his function and importance. Upon returning to mainstream society, he had to reconfigure his mind frame to one in which he had not known for a decades. As his fulfillment waned, so did his function. Unfortunately, he inevitably committed suicide because he could not find the same equilibrium he had felt for so long in prison. Both Brooks and Red exemplified how, in Functionalism, several different parts make up a society and have a function that adds to its stability. Additionally, because of the purpose they served, they also felt a sense of fulfillment because of their ability to have an impact on the rest of the prison population.

Talcott Parsons, a Harvard University sociologist and key figure in the development of Functionalist theory saw any society as a vast network of connected parts, each of which helps to maintain the system of a whole. His approach holds that if an aspect of social life does not contribute to a society’s stability or survival or if it does not serve some function or promote value among members of that particular society, it will not be passed on from one generation to the next.

One of the subplots of the film is the prison warden's mistreatment of prisoners and the subpar conditions the inmates endure while at Shawshank. There are several instances in the film where the prison warder or a member of his staff is seen verbally or physically abusing one of the inmates in an attempt to assert his power over the inmates. In these overt instances, violence is used by the dominant group to establish their control over the inmates and discourage them of their ability to see themselves as anything more than a rejected member of mainstream society.

This assertion of power becomes vague once Andy Dufresne establishes himself amongst the prison employees as an intelligent and resourceful individual who could in fact benefit their lives outside of prison life. Dufresne, who was wrongly accused of killing his wife and her lover, introduces his accounting skills to the prison guards in an intense argument where Dufresene, without provocation, initiates a conversation with a guard to inform him of how he can avoid paying taxes on a lump sum of money he will be receiving. Initially, the guard attempts to demoralize Dufrense by establishing his position over him; however, once he realizes that Dufresne can actually assist him, he allows him to offer his expertise. After this interaction, Dufresne becomes an important financial asset to the prison community and inevitably takes charge of the Prison Warden's finances as he attempts to hide his financial scams.

As Dufresne becomes more and more involved in handling these funds, his role as solely a prisoner is diminished and the Warden's control over Dufresne becomes less and less significant. While he attempts to establish his authority over him by making him spend significant amounts of time in solitary confinement, he essentially begins using excessive punishment as a means of covering up his own inner conflict. Once Andy escapes from prison and uncovers the Warden's scandal to the public, not only does he ruin the stability of the prison, but he also exerts his own power over the Warden which inevitably ends in the death of the warden. Within the prison, brute force was often used to enforce the prison hierarchy in which the prisoners fell at the very bottom. However, Andy Dufresne challenged the Functionalism theory within the prison by establishing a position in the community and offering homogeneity to the warden and his employees and inevitably turning against it.

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