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In "Shawshank Redemption" is Andy an Existential Hero?I know I already asked this, but...

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chris039 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted November 7, 2009 at 12:59 AM via web

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In "Shawshank Redemption" is Andy an Existential Hero?

I know I already asked this, but im looking for a little more information.

If Yes, give examples from the movie/book, and the aspects of existentialism which he contains

If No, give exmaples aswell, and say why his characteristics are not that of a existentialist.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 7, 2009 at 2:30 AM (Answer #1)

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Sartre has three categories of freedom: the man whom he compares to stones (no freedom), the man he compares to plants (some freedom), and the true person (complete freedom).  The Warden, the guards, and most of the other prisoners are stones.  Brooks was a stone.  He hated his freedom.  Red is a plant.  Andy is the true person.  He moves Red from a plant to a true person by the novella's end.

Kierkegaard, the father of modern existentialism, says an existential hero must move from resignation to faith.  In his famous work, he begins with a Kierkegaardian "Knight of Infinite Resignation" and arrives at a "Knight of Faith." Kierkegaard says the knight of infinite resignation focuses his life around an infinitely important goal, but soon realizes that his goal cannot be reached, inevitably, for whatever reason. Even though he hates his situation, he resolves to be infinitely frustrated by his inabilities both to reach and stop reaching for is goal. Thus, he creates the illusion of a spiritual journey, looking to use ethical arguments to elicit pity from all to become a tragic hero. The knight of faith, however, steps outside the ethical into the spiritual realm and becomes an "individual example of an ethical suspension for a greater purpose—a purpose which is generally irrational and absurd—actually inviting those surrounding to pity themselves."

So, an existential hero is the opposite of a tragic hero.  Andy refuses to be blinded by his own false spiritual journey.  He refuses to suicide at the end, as Red thought.  Andy is the only prisoner who knows that his purpose inside the prison is irrational and absurd; instead of self-pity and resignation, he digs himself out of his cell and cashes in on his freedom.  He realizes his past mistakes and knows that his suffering in prison is his own responsibility and even necessary to his spiritual journey.

Remember, existentialism is an attack on essentialism.  The Warden is an essentialist.  He sees prisoners as prisoners, Christians as Christians, good as good, and evil as evil.  He labels according to what he sees as a fixed human nature; he limits choice; he doesn't see that Christians can be criminals and that criminals can be good.  Andy attacks and exposes the Warden's essentialism.

 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 7, 2009 at 4:55 AM (Answer #2)

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The previous post was very lucid and thorough in its explanation.  The idea of anti- essentialist is critical.  I would like to amplify my original answer to this question.  I think that Andy is an existentialist hero because he understands that there is no moral or structural order to the world other than the one that humans make of it.  Andy sees the failure of the justice system, the shortcomings of the penal system, and the complete hypocritical use of religion.  He has seen the failure of marriage, through his own fault and those of others, and has come to understand that the reality of his situation is only to be made from his own use of freedom.  When confronted with the agony of seeking answers, Sartre often suggests that humans have only their freedom to answer such predicaments.  In this respect, Andy is quite existentialist, as he rejects premises that might represent "bad faith" and understands that pain and doubt are living companions that accompany freedom and choice.  When he and Red are emerged in the discussion of the danger of hope, Andy is purely existentialist as he is the first to suggest that regardless of consequences, hope and freedom are something that "cannot be taken away."  He does not cling to these ideas as being able to resolve the agony of his own notion of choice for he is in solitary confinement for playing the Mozart opera.  However, he stresses the idea that freedom is its own reward and that individual choice, without any premises of "bad faith," are the only elements humans possess.

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