“Shawshank Redemption” Film Analysis Essay.
Lawrence Kohlberg, a famous psychologist, developed a theory which entailed six stages of moral development. The aim of his theory is to allow individuals to be characterised into one of the stages, based upon their moral & ethical well-being. Life experiences usually allow further development, thus moving the individual to advance to higher stages. On the other hand, Abraham Maslow developed a different theory based on human’s most basic needs which is represented in a pyramid type figure containing five levels.
The most basic of needs appear at the bottom of the pyramid and the needs concerned with mans highest potential at the top. Both of these theory’s can be used to analyse Andy Dufresne, the main character in the movie studied in class, Shawshank Redemption.
Andy Dufresne was a banker who was convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and sent to Shawshank prison. Andy eventually becomes good friends with a fellow inmate named Ellis Boyd Redding (Red) who has a large impact on his moral & ethical development.
The film follows the prison life of Andy Dufresne who uses his intelligence and knowledge to aid others. In his time at Shawshank, his energy and determination helped many people and the welfare of the prison. His campaign of one letter a week to he State Senate provided a number of books and records, along with money which aided in the construction of the prison library.
This allowed Andy to educate a number of his fellow inmates and help them to achieve their high school equivalency. Andy used his previous knowledge of banking to his advantage by doing the tax returns for the majority of the guards and others as well as keeping the financial books for the warden’s ill-gotten gains. This advantage allowed him much more leniency than the other prisoners. It was these advantages that abled him to manipulate his way to his escape. His actions allowed him to obtain everything he needed to successfully escape.
The six stages in Kohlberg’s theory are broken down to three levels, with two stages in each. Each of the six stages is more advanced than the one before it. Briefly, Kohlberg’s theory presents three levels: the pre-conventional, conventional, and post conventional. Stages one and two in the pre-conventional level involve an “egocentric point of view” and an “individualistic perspective” in which the individual makes decisions based on the avoidance of punishment and the desire for reward. In stages three and four of the conventional level, individuals make decisions from a “member of society” perspective, considering the goods of others, the maintenance of positive relations, and the rules of society. Individuals in the final two stages (five and six) of the post-conventional level, reason from a “prior to society” perspective in which abstract ideas take precedence over particular societal laws.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is based on different aspects of moral & ethical development than Kohlberg but is still a relevant theory to characterise Andy. His theory consists of five levels applied into the shape of a pyramid, which concentrate on the more basic of human needs. Each level of the pyramid is dependant of the previous level. The largest and bottom level is made up of the physical needs humans need to survive. The second level is based on the safety and security needs followed by the third level which contains needs that provide the feelings of love, affection and belongingness. The final two levels are based around respect and self esteem with the tip of the pyramid being self actualisation.
Upon entry into the prison, Andy is operating out of stage three of Kohlberg’s theory which is based on gaining the acceptance of others, and level two of two of Maslow’s. Prison life is hard as it is very routinal and respect by others isn’t just given, it has to be earned. Due to Andy’s quiet nature, his first impression is misjudged by many of his inmates. Andy first began to gain the respect of the inmates and officers when he used his banking knowledge to aid one of the officers financially and in return he asked for some beers for the prisoners involved in some outdoor work. He quoted to the officer, “… I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds…”
The prison itself was a roof over Andy’s head and the blankets and clothes he received were enough to provide basic comfort. Maslow’s first and second levels are easily met within the prison community. After the beer occurrence, Andy advanced to Maslow’s third level of belongingness and inclusion. It is obvious that the inmates involved gain instant respect for Andy during this incident because as Red said, “he sat there watching us drink his beer with a smile on his face,” a smile of belongingness.
Andy subsequently advances to Kohlberg’s stage four. It is obvious that he is quite aware of the rules within the prison and the punishments, but still he continues with certain events. It seems like he gets enjoyment out of irritating the prison officers occasionally and uses his power against them, even though he is well aware of the punishments. This is evident when he played a record over the intercom of the prison. Even though he had the chance to give in to the officers and avoid punishment at all, he sat there with a cheeky grin on his face and turned up the music. At this time, he progressed to level four of Maslow’s theory. His needs for respect and recognition are shown by a few of his fellow inmate when he returns from his time in “the hole”. On his bed was a note saying “welcome back- no charge” accompanied by a poster of Rita Hayworth. Usually every item has a price in the prison so for him to receive a present, free of charge from his inmates shows a great deal of respect from them.
Andy said to Red, “I guess it comes down to one simple choice really: Get busy livin’ or get busy dying.” Andy made Red promise that if he ever was released from the prison that he find a particular hayfield at Buxton and dig up something he had left for him. Andy escaped from Shawshank prison in 1966, twenty years after he arrived there. He claimed money from a number of banks that he had set up as part of his plan whilst inside the prison and set off to live out his dream: Renovating an old fishing boat on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. He stated, “the Pacific has no memory so that’s where I will go.” Andy escaped to live out his “calling”, what he always wanted to do.
This clearly shows that he reached the final stage of Maslow’s theory – Self Actualisation. The final advance that Andy made on Kohlberg’s theory was to stage five. The look of contentment that he had whilst driving in his red car to Mexico showed this. It was like he didn’t see any wrong in his escape and he didn’t have a care in the world. The source of hope that Andy was helped many of his inmates develop morally, particularly Red who was eventually released from prison and travelled to spend the rest of his days with his friend, Andy.
As demonstrated above, both Kohlberg’s and Maslow’s moral development theory’s can be used to analyse Andy. As he became more morally stable, he advanced to higher levels. There is a possible chance that Andy could reach stage six of Kohlberg’s theory, but this would just simply take time.