The narrator of the story. A convicted murderer serving a life sentence, Red writes the story to try to make sense of his friendship with Andy, his life in prison, and his hopes for the future. Red is a key figure inside prison, a lifeline to the outside world who can smuggle almost anything into the prison—for a price. Once paroled, he struggles with his newfound freedom, dissatisfied with his job and still without hope for a better future.
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The protagonist. The former vice president of a bank in Portland, Maine, Andy is thirty years old when he arrives at Shawshank and approximately fifty-eight when he escapes. A short, neat, meticulous man with sandy blond hair, he has small hands and wears gold-rimmed glasses. Most of the other inmates think that Andy is cold and snobbish because he’s always so calm and composed, rarely revealing his inner thoughts or true character. Andy eventually becomes the prison librarian and financial wizard, offering free tax advice to guards and wardens in exchange for protection and favors. He’s one of the few innocent inmates at Shawshank.
One of the prison wardens. Norton institutes the new “Inside-Out” program that forces prisoners to work on chain gains to repair roads and public buildings. Even though he claims to be a devout Baptist, he accepts bribes from local construction companies so that the Inside-Out program won’t put them out of business. He uses Andy’s financial expertise to hide his illegal earnings and therefore refuses to help Andy win a retrial. Norton eventually resigns in disgrace after Andy’s escape.
A prison guard. A tall man with thinning red hair, Hadley speaks loudly and uses the threat of violence to control the prisoners. Pessimistic, cynical, and paranoid, he feels the world is out to get him, even when he inherits $35,000 from a long-lost brother. Andy’s offer to help Hadley avoid paying taxes on the money marks the beginning of Andy’s career as the prison’s financial wizard. Hadley eventually has a heart attack and retires.
The gang of inmates who prey on weaker prisoners. The Sisters, including inmates Bogs Diamond and Rooster MacBride, maintain their dominance in the hierarchy of prisoners by beating and gang-raping new inmates, including Andy. Andy always fights back even though he usually loses. Andy eventually wins protection from the Sisters after helping the guards and wardens with their finances.
A young inmate. A career criminal, Tommy has served time in another prison with Elwood Blatch, the man who privately admits to killing Andy’s wife and her lover. Tommy offers to help Andy prove his innocence, but Norton transfers Tommy to a minimum-security prison to keep Andy from leaving Shawshank.