1. All I know for sure is that Andy Dufresne wasn’t much like me or anyone else I ever knew. . . . It was a kind of inner light he carried around with him.
Red writes these lines after recalling how Andy traded tax advice with Byron Hadley in exchange for three beers apiece for the crew of prisoners tarring the roof of the Shawshank license plate factory. Andy’s reputation soars to legendary status after taking on Hadley and returning a sense of self-worth and dignity to the prisoners in the work crew. Red realizes that what some prisoners had originally written off as snobbishness or the swagger of self-satisfaction was merely Andy’s unrelenting sense of self-worth. In a system designed to undermine personal identity and label individuals as unworthy of being normal members of society, Andy’s composure and confidence stand out from the rest of the prisoners, whose aspirations and attitude become slowly blighted during the grinding years of incarceration. Andy’s sense of self-worth exists as another form of freedom, the liberation of knowing he is in full possession of himself no matter how suffocating and claustrophobic the prison becomes. In that sense, Andy never actually loses his freedom because no one can take it away from him.
2. I hope Andy is down there.
I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.
Red’s words at the end of his narrative reinforce the central role hope plays in “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” Finding Andy’s letter could not have come at a better time, because Red has reached an impasse within his first few tentative months of freedom after being paroled. Red’s difficult transition and struggle with finding his place in society place him at risk of violating the terms of his probation and intentionally returning to the familiar surroundings of Shawshank. Upon first entering prison, many inmates resent the loss of control of their lives, but they later miss that level of control once they’ve been released. The regulated, ordered lifestyle offers structure, routine, and discipline. Freedom and release, once so highly prized, become foreign and threatening. Women, for example, seem threatening to Red, and his job is unfulfilling. Andy’s request to join him in Mexico, however, gives Red the direction and purpose that he had lacked. Even though Red fears that the waters of the Pacific will not be as blue as he has imagined them to be and realizes that he may not even be able to find Andy, their friendship has once again infused him with a strength that he would not otherwise possess.