What does this sentence mean, and how does it apply to people like Andy and Red?  In the book "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" on page 26, Red says that "They give you life, and that...

What does this sentence mean, and how does it apply to people like Andy and Red?

 

In the book "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" on page 26, Red says that "They give you life, and that is what they take- all of it that counts, anyway."

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

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The sentence about "taking" life refers to prison life, the life of an institutionalized person who is trapped within walls.  The idea of "taking life" derives from the idea that hope is taken away when one has a life sentence in prison.  This hope can take many forms:  Hope of a better life, hope of making better choices, hope of seeing something else, hope of absorbing a different narrative, or even hope of writing a new and different chapter in one's life.  It is this breaking of the human spirit, of taking life, that is being addressed in this portion of the book's description of prison life.  It does not merely have to be prison which is the subject of that sentence.  Any form of life that removes the ability to dream, to envision new frontiers, and that deadens the sensibilities that allow us to see something that might be from what is represents a force that "gives you life and that's what they take."  Essentially, this is another type of prison, one of mentality and of internal psyche.  Part of what makes the statement so powerful is that it likens prison to not merely being a physicality or something that is tangible, but rather something that can also be mental and internal.  Some would argue that this conception of prison- the one where "they take life- all of it that counts anyway"- is even more horrifying than an actual and physical prison because of its dehumanizing effect.  The person whose life- "the part of it that matters- is taken is one who is reduced to a shell of a human being, one that has been robbed of dignity, the ability to dream, and the ability to transform.  This represents what the statement is addressing and how this vision of prison impacts the characters on both spiritual and physical levels.

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