Feeling Grateful After Reading Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

Gratitude in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
Gratitude in the movie adaptation of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Image source.

“I was down here in the supermarket, and this old woman comes around the corner […] – obviously one of the kind of women who says whatever is on her brain. She said, ‘I know who you are, you are the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do, but I respect your right to do it. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption.’

‘And I said, ‘I wrote that’. And she said, ‘No you didn’t’. And she walked off and went on her way.'” An interview of Stephen King by Neil Gaiman for the Sunday Times.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most-watched films in my house. I’d say it was the natural transition after watching the 2002 film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo an unfeasible amount for years beforehand, really.

Both films deal with wrongly-accused crimes, inhumane prison sentences and testing the balance between revenge and justice in one way or another. Also, both films are the result of two very good books.

Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo was a book I immensely enjoyed reading a few years ago, and I knew I had to try Stephen King’s original short story, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, for myself.

At 132 pages long, Shawshank is not quite the tome that Monte Cristo is. However, there’s so much in it. If you’re looking for a short but compelling read, I’d by all means tell you to give it a go. After all, you may come away with a few life lessons and a reinforced sense of gratitude.

Here are a few things Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption can teach us:

Having a hobby can keep you (relatively) hopeful and sane

I think the strongest characters in the story are ones who find activities that they’re interested in, even when in prison. The narrator, Red, tells us,

“Oh, there are all sorts of ways to divert yourself, even in prison; it seems like the human mind is full of an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to diversion. 

We also hear the following about Andy, the prisoner at the centre of Red’s story:

“Geology had, in fact, become his chief hobby. I imagined it appealed to his patient, meticulous nature. A ten-thousand-year ice age here. A million years of mountain-building there. Tectonic plates grinding against each other deep under the earth’s skin over the millennia. Pressure. Andy told me once that all of geology is the study of pressure.”

Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs

We soon understand that Andy isn’t the standard Shawshank prisoner. For one, the fear of being ‘institutionalised’ doesn’t seem to concern him as much as it does the other characters.

While Red often worries that he couldn’t last outside the prison confines, Andy works hard to stop this happening to himself. Twenty-seven years later, he does falter slightly, but he perseveres.

Red observes that, “some birds are not meant to be caged”, but perhaps it’s more a case of some birds not accepting being caged, even after so long.

Imagine the Pacific when you’re stuck in a cell

Many of the conditions described at Shawkshank prison are far beyond anything that we’ve experienced in our own lives or could even imagine. To stay psychologically strong, stoically distancing your mind from external circumstances seems to be the best option. By no means is that easy, but Andy tries his best:

“‘He spoke with such calm assurance you would have thought he had only a month or so left to serve. ‘You know where I’m goin’, Red?’
‘Zihuatanejo,’ he said, rolling the word softly from his tongue like music. ‘Down in Mexico. It’s a little place maybe twenty miles from Playa Azul and Mexico Highway 37. It’s a hundred miles north-east of Acapulco on the Pacific Ocean. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?’I told him I didn’t.
‘They say The Pacific has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.’

“It always comes down to just two choices. Get busy living, or get busy dying”

Probably the most famous line of both story and film, this quote is more than a little cheesy. However, I know I should remember it, and remember it well.
The destination of Shawshank Redemption, Zihuatanejo
“Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” 1745 Anson Map of Zihuatanejo Harbor, Mexico. The destination of hope and direction in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Have you read Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption? Perhaps you’ve watched the film – if so, why not give the story a go too?


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It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.

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