The Narrative Structure


The narrative structure would best be described as classic / realist due to numerous factors throughout the film.


First of all, the characters in this are very well rounded: the story is told at a slow pace and this gives us the opportunity to gain vast information about the characters within it. This is done through the length of the film, clocking at 142 minutes, 22 seconds (136 minutes, 36 seconds on video due to PAL transfer), also this film spans the nineteen years that Andy Dufresne spends in the prison and for us to get a feel for the characters, time and space the film needs to be long so that we the audience can take in all this information.


In addition, the movie follows a linear narrative structure where we simply have a beginning (Andy’s conviction and entrance to Shawshank), middle (Andy’s relationship with Red, the warden and other in-mates develops) and an end (Andy’s subsequent escape and Red’s quest to eventually find him).


The ending of the film also is nice and neatly tied up in a package, with all lose ends sorted which resembles the classic / realist structure. We are not left to think about what happens to the warden and Captain Byron Hardley as we see what fate lies upon, as with Red and Andy as the film ends as they start a new life in Mexico.


In relation to Roland Barthes theory, this film does contain enigma codes similar to that in a classic realist film, such as a detective film as we ask ourselves such questions as:


Why Andy ever get out of Shawshank?


Will the Warden get away with the illegal money he has?


Does Andy have the strength to overcome such strong adversity?


Will Red be granted parole?


Barthes explored the theory that the audience are invited to solve a puzzle set in a story and use their intelligence through clues to try and solve the riddle, though these enigmas are generally seen as feminine, tailored for women’s enjoyment.


Also, he stated that in a film, actions codes, which were, defined as masculine may be used where an action or event within a film helps to move the story along and it is usually there for the enjoyment of males. This film contains such codes and here are some examples:


The Sisters relentless abuse towards Andy during his first two years of incarceration,


The death of Bobby by being shot five times by Captain Byron Hadley,


Brooks’s suicide after the stress of living on the “outside,”


Andy’s attempt to escape from the prison through his cell’s walls and then a sewage pipe.


Virtually every film made contains action and enigma codes regardless of time or country of origin, just like those in a classic, realist narrative structure.


Another point is in relation to Todorov’s theory; this film contains, as initial state of equilibrium, in which there is a small period of calm where Andy is put on trial. On initial viewing you may argue that this is not a period of calm as he has the potential to go jail, but I see this as a short equilibrium as he is “innocent until proven guilty.”


However, we as the audience can foresee the disruption as Andy is questioned by the plaintiff lawyer, his persuasive use of language makes us think this balance will shortly be lost:


[The Courtroom Scene]


Prosecutor: And that also is very convenient, isn’t it Mr. Dufresne?


Andy Dufresne: Since I am innocent of this crime, I find it decidedly INCONVEIENT that the gun was never found.


After the disruption, we see Andy develop his friendship with Ellis “Red” Redding over his nineteen years of imprison, whilst giving finical advice to the warden among others, develop a library and challenge adversity throughout the film with demanding consequences (i.e. The Sisters, the opera record playing through the P.A. system, risking his life as he tries to give finical advice to Captain Bryon Hadley, appealing for his release when rejected etc.).


The resolution comes when Andy escapes from Shawshank and meets Red in Mexico after his parole for serving forty years of a life sentence, which acts not only to the cliché “all loose ends tied up” fairytale ending but it also does not leave us puzzled about situations and characters, as for example before the ending