Cowardice: Despair and Acceptance to Separation

The ability one has to deal with situations with effects of a psychological nature is emotional courage. People encounter emotional courage whenever they need to make a difficult decision, especially one that disconnects one from a place of security and familiarity. Emotional courage makes people willing to move beyond what they know and test their limits. This topic is present in The Shawshank Redemption when Red moves throughout his daily life in the prison, discussing what life would be like outside the walls and his eventual living free of Shawshank Prison. In the character of Red, Frank Darabont explores the idea that an individual lacking emotional courage will give in to their separation from a normal life and extend their ideology to others’ situations as well. This will continue until sufficient hope has taken root in that individual allowing them to courageously face their separation.

Due to separation and a loss of hope, an individual will grow to lack emotional courage and will be unable to face life unseparated. Red had been in Shawshank Prison for twenty years. At this time, the parole board called him in for a hearing to determine whether or not he would be released early. When asked if he had been rehabilitated, Red answered that he had and was “no longer a danger to society.” After this scene, the director shows that Red’s release was rejected. Red followed his meeting with an excursion to the prison yard, that was surrounded by large, grey stone walls, and discussed with his fellow inmates the outcome of his hearing with the parole board of which another inmate stated that he was “up for rejection next week.” His friend saying that he was up for “rejection” demonstrates that there was no hope for a more favourable outcome for any of the prisoners the correctional facility was holding. Red was much less relaxed when he was relating with the board versus with his friend. This how that Red did not believe what he was saying would make a difference to the parole board; he did not have the courage to say and do what he truly believed and gave in to what he thought the parole board wanted him to say. Red was more comfortable surrounded by walls, a symbol of barriers, separation and confinement, than he was with the prospect of freedom. Of the walls, he later said, “you come to depend on them,” a signal of his institutionalization. After twenty years, Red’s separation from the outside world had sunk in and he had accepted it by working to make a good life as a con man in the prison. Red’s lack of courage made him state ideas that were not his own and his lack of hope fueled his cowardice. An individual used to separation and despair will not have the courage to deal with their separation. As hope is lost, the desire to fight for a better environment goes with it. With nothing to fight for, individuals need not the bravery to take risks that may better their condition. As despair and cowardice set in, personal ideologies begin to be applied to those around the individual.

Cowardice changes the thought process of an individual that leads to more timid decisions being made, yet as cowardice increases, the reach of an individual’s judgement transcends oneself and touches those they relate to. Red had done business with another inmate named Andy Dufresne on a rock hammer and later, talking in the yard, Red asked if Andy had used it to scratch his name into the wall. By advising Andy to scratch his name into the wall, Red was encouraging Andy to give in to the separation that prison brings. During a prison inspection, Warden Norton handed Andy a Bible that, unbeknownst to him, contained the rock hammer saying, “salvation lies within.” Through dramatic irony and foreshadowing, the warden really said that the rock hammer was the item that would get Andy out of the prison. The irony is found in Red communicating to Andy to scratch his name into the wall, to give into confinement, with the exact item that would set Andy free. When Red first saw the rock hammer, he thought, “it would take a man six hundred years to tunnel out of these walls with it”. Red did not have the mindset to see that with resilience, the rock hammer would be invaluable.  Red later told Andy that “hope is a dangerous thing.” Believing and striving for more or better things is an idea that is dismissed by Red in this quotation. The state of being institutionalized made Red value acquiescence, an act that takes no courage, which is a trait he conveyed with both of these statements.  The lack of emotional courage leads to cowardice and as cowardice grows in an individual, cowardly endeavors are put forth as advice to others, they see emotional cowardice as the right mindset and want to make sure it is widely accepted. Nevertheless, just as despair and cowardice are contagious, so too is courage.

An individual who has experienced separation and has settled into the despair of confinement can, with fresh hope, gain the willingness to move towards reintegration. Red spent forty years of a life sentence in prison before he was released on parole. In front of the latest hearing board, Red expressed his true thoughts about the rehabilitation they always ask about. This event occurred after the escape of Andy Dufresne from Shawshank. Red was shown, through Andy’s escape, that there was more to life than the obvious and more than what was presented to him. Andy’s escape taught Red that risks are to be taken and sitting idle in confinement does not profit him. As Andy said, “get busy living or get busy dying.” Upon his release, Red struggled to find his way outside the prison, in the world he was separated from for so long. Red previously said, “he did not think he could make it on the outside,” but later was able to stated the only thing that kept him going was “a promise he made to Andy.” That Buxton hayfield planted a seed of hope in Red that gave him the courage and resilience to move forward in his life. Being placed in prison physically separated Red from the world but outside the prison walls, he was still mentally and emotionally separated from the concept of freedom. The hope and courage inspired by Andy in Red allowed him to take down those emotional walls that were keeping him institutionalized and keeping him from living in the world freely. When hope is introduced to a separated individual, they will have the courage to rejoin what they were initially separated from. Resilience will grow in the individual allowing them to resist the separation they had once embraced.

An individual possessing emotional cowardice that stemmed from despair will first accept their separation, then, in relations with others, share their cowardice. Yet, when hope is incorporated into their life, they will courageously face their separation and reunion as presented in Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. Red was familiar with prison and how it separated him from the outside and did not live and act as he wanted due to his lack of hope and emotional courage. When Andy Dufresne arrived at Shawshank, the advice Red bestowed on him came from Red’s cowardice and despair. However, by the time of his release, Andy had made such an impact on Red that resilience, hope and courage were growing in Red allowing him to fight the separation he had initially accepted. With hope comes courage; with courage comes resilience; with resilience comes the desire and ability to gain what was lost; with resilience comes the desire and ability for redemption from a separated mindset.

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