Given the texts of As You Like It and The Shawshank Redemption, describe how the composers' of these two texts choice of language is shaped by a sense of belonging.

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

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

Posted on

The idea of belonging is of vital importance to both works.  The structure and choice of language in each work is reflective of what it means to belong, and be separated from a world of belonging.  In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the exposition helps to establish idea of belonging and exile.  Belonging and exile help to establish the drama's setting, as the Forest of Arden is a realm of banishment, where individuals who once belonged no longer are part of the circle of inclusiveness.  While it is viewed as an idealized realm, it stands as a domain where one goes where they have been expunged from the condition of belonging.  The jester's words speak to such a state of existence:  "In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life."  The jester's understanding is molded by the condition of belonging as he suggests that individuals who are separated from this natural condition live "a very vile life." 

At the same time, belonging represents the initial background that governs the drama's initial characterizations. Frederick has exiled his older brother, the rightful ruler, to the forest.  This lack of belonging is emphasized with Rosalind being kept behind.  She remains in a world where she technically does not belong.  However, her relationship with Celia embodies a sense of belonging.  This dynamic will present itself throughout the drama, one where individuals balance the reality of exile and separation through the counteracting force of belonging in the form of love or friendship. At the same time, Orlando is exiled in a manner of speaking because of the dismissal he experiences from his brother. The same pattern is evident in Rosalind being banished from the kingdom. Continuing the theme of her counteracting the forces of exile with that of belonging, she takes Celia with her.  The flight into the forest embodies a collection of misfits, individuals who have experienced exile.  Celia and Rosalind's entrance into this world represents a world where these misfits find a sense of belonging, a community of sorts consisting of outcasts and those who have been marginalized. The manner in which individuals relate to one another and themselves is formed through the manner of belonging tempered with the forces of exiled separation.  

The language of belonging defines the characterizations and plot of the drama. This is seen in its ending, as its conclusion is molded by the dynamic of belonging and isolation.  The final scene of marriage between the primary characters represents a means of belonging, what the God Hymen calls an attempt to "make conclusion/ Of these most strange events."  This notion of "conclusion" is one where unity and comedy emerge from the condition of isolation and separation. The deux et machina of the divine helps to confirm the idea that belonging is the natural state of human beings.  Accordingly, when the elder Duke is restored to his rightful place it enhances this idea. Jacques and Frederick also find a sense of belonging as they pledge themselves to the divine into version of "the old religious man."  The idea of belonging is a critical one in the drama's ending. In the Epilogue, Rosalind's addressing of the audience delivers the final point that belonging and unity are intrinsic to human definition:

 My way is to conjure you and I begin with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of the play as please you; and I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women … that between you and the women the play may please.

To "conjure" is to deliver individuals into a world of belonging, consisting of tolerance and virtue towards all human beings. It is a world where love is confusing, and its only certainty is that it enables people to experience what it means to belong. The language of inclusion help to conclude the drama, ensuring that the concept of belonging resonates in the audience's mind.

What it means to belong is critically important to Shakespeare's work.  It is the language that the characters speak, for each of them seek to belong as critical to their identities.  In order to avoid living a "very vile life," they seek to find affirmation and a sense of connection that is present in belonging.  Such a reality underscores The Shawshank Redemption.  Prison, itself, is a symbol of exile and isolation.  The film's exposition demonstrates this as the sentencing judge makes clear that Andy must go to prison for his supposed crime. The "first night," as Red narrates, is the most difficult.  When one of the "fresh fish," complain that "I wanna go home" to the jeers and catcalls of the other prisoners, it is clear that prison life at Shawshank consists of struggling with the reality of not belonging.  At breakfast the next day, Andy asks Haywood if he knew the man's name and Haywood indicates that doing so would have made no difference.  This opening is formed by the dynamic of belonging and the lack of it in prison life.

As the narrative progresses, Shawshank still embodies a world where individuals are socially deemed as not belonging. However, Darabont constructs an equally compelling reality in which individuals can belong to a larger element even in the most disparate of circumstances.  There is a solidarity that emerges between the prisoners.  When Andy risks his own life and safety for a "bucket of suds" for his fellow inmates, he did so, as Red says to experience a practical and existential sense of belonging:  "You could argue he'd done it to curry favor with the guards. Or, maybe make a few friends among us cons. Me, I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while."   As Andy is undergoing rehabilitation for his attack from "the Sisters," his friends commit to collecting rocks, in which one of them suggest that they "owe him that for the beer."

The film's narrative progresses in displaying how individuals need to feel a sense of belonging in order to make sense of the world in which they live. Brooks struggles when he is released from Shawshank because "nothing makes sense anymore," eerily paralleling Shakespeare's musing of a "very vile life." Part of the reason Brooks commits suicide is because he was taken from his condition of belonging. The film displays that the consequences of not belonging is personal alienation, attributing Brooks' suicide to "life" being taken from him by no longer belonging to anything in the outside world. Another example of the film's construction of prison life being molded by the idea of belonging is seen when Andy discovers a set of old records.  When Andy plays the Mozart music for the prisoners in the yard and around the institution, he creates a sense of belonging for all:

I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.

The concept of belonging shapes the structure of the film's narrative.

The friendship between Red and Andy is the most defining statement that the film makes regarding the purpose behind belonging.  This is also seen in the association between Tommy and Andy, as well as the other men in the prison who have formed solidarity with one another.  When Andy escapes and Red is paroled, one sees that the power of belonging shapes the film's conclusion and the language that characters use to understand the world and their place in it:

There is a harsh truth to face. No way I'm gonna make it on the outside. All I do anymore is think of ways to break my parole. Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time. Only one thing stops me. A promise I made to Andy.

The language of belonging seen in "a promise I made to Andy" and the dreaded reality of what it means "to live in fear" guides the film's resolution.   Andy and Red meet up in the ultimate affirmation of friendship and belonging.  As with Shakespeare, the resonant chord of friendship is struck, leaving the viewer to recognize its ultimate importance in defining human identity.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,912 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question