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Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982), novella by Stephen King, originally published in Different Seasons (1982). Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption has been filmed as The Shawshank Redemption (1994), directed by Frank Darabont.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Format of the story

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is presented as a document written by Red, a lifetime convict of Shawshank prison. We don't find out until towards the end, but all of it is written when the things described have already happened, so he's looking backward over a period of 25 years when writing. Because of this, the text is written as it would be told from one person to another, rather than as a straight novel.

Another notable thing is that Red often writes about things that he has not witnessed himself. Since it's a story about prison life, many of the important characters are limited in who they can meet and what they can do. Thus his account sometimes relies on information retold one or more times and general hearsay (although he does acknowledge this himself).

Red tells the story in more or less chronological order, but he also puts in explanations of concepts and people where needed.

The story

The story of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption begins in 1948 when Andy Dufresne arrives at Shawshank prison. In contrast to most other convicts, he's not a hardened criminal but a soft-spoken banker, convicted of killing his wife and her lover. Like everyone in Shawshank, he claims to be innocent.

Like most newcomers, Andy gets in trouble with the sisters. They are a gang of sodomites led by Bogs Diamond that gang up on anyone they feel they can handle, and Andy is no exception. Not until much later does he escape their attentions.

Red, the narrator of the story, is known as the guy who can get stuff. His ability to deliver contraband of almost any type into Shawshank makes him somewhat of a celebrity among prisoners, and it's also the reason that Andy approaches him. Andy's hobby outside the walls was rock-carving, and now he has immense amounts of free time on his hands, so he asks Red to get him a rock hammer. He uses this to shape small rocks he finds in the exercise yard into small sculptures.

The next item he orders from Red is a large poster of Rita Hayworth. When taking the order, Red reflects that Andy is excited like a teenager just for ordering a pin-up poster, but doesn't think more of it then.

One spring day, Andy and Red and some other prisoners are tarring a roof when Andy overhears a guard griping over the amount of tax he will have to pay on an inheritance he has just gotten from a run-away brother. Andy approaches him (almost getting thrown off the roof in the process) and tells him that there are legal ways to avoid taxation. He offers to help him with all the necessary paperwork for the operation, in exchange for some beer for himself and the other prisoners on the roof.

This is the beginning of a long stretch of economic work for Andy. More and more of the screws discover that they can use him for tax returns, loan applications, and other things like that. In return for his help, he gets protection from the sisters and is allowed to stay alone in his cell instead of having a cellmate like most other prisoners. For a short period, he shares a cell with an Indian called Normaden, but he soon leaves again. He keeps complaining about the draught in the cell while there.

When Brooksie, the previous prison librarian, is paroled, Andy takes over the prison library and starts to send applications to the state senate for money for books. For a long time, he gets no response to his weekly letters. Finally, he gets some money. Instead of ceasing his letter writing (like the senate probably hoped), he starts writing twice as often. His diligent work makes the library very good, and he also helps a number of prisoners catch up on their studies, preparing them for life outside.

The warden of Shawshank, Norton, also realizes that a man of Andy's skills is useful. He has started a program called "Inside-Out" where convicts do work outside the prison for very low wages. Normal companies outside can't compete with the cost of Inside-Out workers, so sometimes they offer Norton bribes not to bid for contracts. This cash has to be laundered somehow, and here Andy is useful.

One day, Andy hears from another prisoner about someone having bragged about killing a rich golfer and some hot-shot bankers wife, and then getting the banker jailed for it. Hearing this, Andy of course sees the possibility of a new trial since it proves that he is innocent. Norton scoffs at the story, however, and as soon as possible he makes sure that the person who talked is moved to another prison, presumably as compensation for promising that he never talk about this anymore. Andy is too useful to Norton to be allowed to go, and furthermore he knows things that shouldn't be known outside.

Before being sentenced to life, Andy managed (with the help of a friend) to sell off his assets and invest them in the name of a made-up person. This made-up person, Peter Stevens, is created by Andy's friend who fixes false papers, social security number and so on. The papers needed to claim Peter Stevens's assets and assume his identity are hidden under a black rock in a rock wall lining a hay field in the small town of Buxton, not too far from Shawshank. After many years in prison, Andy tells Red about this, describing exactly how to find the place and how he will go to Mexico to start a hotel when he gets out.

One day, Andy is gone. After searching the area without finding him, the warden looks in his cell and discovers that the poster on his wall (now showing Linda Ronstadt) covers a hole in the wall. He has used his rock hammer not just to shape rocks, but to dig a hole through the wall. Once through the wall, he has broken into a latrine pipe, crawled 500 yards through this, and gotten out into a field. How he got away from there with no equipment, nobody knows.

Some time later, Red gets an empty postcard from a small town near the Mexican border. Yet later, Red is paroled and starts to try making a life for himself outside the walls. He also begins to hitch-hike to Buxton, searching for suitable hay fields. After a while, he does find one with a rock wall on the correct side. It even has a black rock in it. Under this rock, he finds a sizeable sum of money and a letter adressed to him from Andy. The story ends with Red violating his parole to follow Andy (or Peter, rather) to Mexico.