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Traylor 1 Maggie Traylor Mr. Harrell Theology I 17 June 2006 The

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Traylor 1 Maggie Traylor Mr. Harrell Theology I 17 June 2006 The Powered By Docstoc
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Maggie Traylor

Mr. Harrell

Theology I

17 June 2006

                            The Fallen Man in “The Shawshank Redemption”

       “The Shawshank Redemption,” a dark depiction of a man’s life in prison and the corruption that

surrounds him, provides a rich example of the condition of the fallen man. Within the film, both

prisoners and guards live a life of deceit and violence with little hope of release from the external and

internal evils that thrive at Shawshank. The ultimate illustration of this fallen state lies within the

Warden Norton, who condones excess corporal punishment as “discipline” and poses as a devout

Christian to deviate from his obvious acts of fraudulence. His hypocrisy and his blindness to his

condition represent the perpetual sin that we are all guilty of if we do not accept Christ into our hearts.

       The sins within Shawshank, be it blasphemy, sodomy, bribery, monetary fraudulence, murder, or

suicide, are indulged in by all who work and live within its walls. Both the hardened criminals and

sadistic guards create such misery that the convicts no longer rely on hope but consider it dangerous.

Like Dante’s entrance into the inferno, the Shawshank gates silently tell the criminals to “abandon every

hope, all…who enter (Alighieri 89).” The man responsible for such a dismal setting, Warden Norton,

proves to be the most corrupt being in the story, himself a figure of hopelessness, a lost soul who is not

redeemed by the end. He commits a wide variety of crimes, much like the other workers and the

inmates, but he above all best represents this fallen condition because, unlike the others, he claims to be

a faithful Christian. He initially attempts to appear as a man of God, asking from the new convicts only

that they abstain from blasphemy and expresses hope that they will find the Lord while serving their

sentences. Incongruencies surface early on, though, and it becomes apparent to the viewer that this man
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is just as far from God as the sinners he supervises. In the beginning, the guards who devotedly serve the

Warden frequently take the Lord’s name in vain, despite the Warden’s supposed rule against it. As these

same guards beat a man in front of the Warden, he justifies the action, saying that he believes in

discipline and The Bible. In this he reveals his distorted view of what is right and wrong. His inaction

toward the beating implies that he believes the Bible condones such violence or that effective discipline

requires unwarranted punishment. The Warden’s twisted methods affect those around him, because it is

he who has the power to stop such violence. As the film progresses, Norton begins to dabble in bribery

as well as use his prisoners’ labor as means of making extra money. He again abuses his authoritative

position. Like the popes in the Inferno for simony, Norton’s “avarice brings grief upon the world,

crushing the good, exalting the depraved (Alighieri 243).” This “crushing” of the good occurs through

his orders to murder Tommy, an inmate capable of releasing the film’s protagonist, Andy Dufresne,

from Shawshank. He even threatens to “throw [Andy] to the sodomites” in order to prevent him from

revealing the Warden’s illegal transactions. He finally commits suicide in order to avoid going to jail

himself. The viewer comes to understand that Norton is so deeply involved in sin that he cannot reject

what Fr. Kallistos Ware describes as the “false self .” According to Ware, one must truly reach in his

heart to find God at the center. But Norton is so completely involved in his false self that he is unable to

discover “the self that God sees (Ware 56).” Thus he is the ultimate expression of the man who has

fallen from God, and his hypocrisy not only separates him from Divine Grace, but furthers it because he

is constantly destroying his true self, however inadvertently.

       His immense distortion of Godliness is in fact the reason behind this destruction of the true self

and the indulgence of the false self. Because the convict Red admits very early on that he is guilty of the

murder he was put away for, he can finally come to regret his actions and recognize his sins as wrong.

Because he is truly sorry, he is released from Shawshank. But the Warden does not appear to think what
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he does is wrong, or at least believes that he is free from wrongdoing because he is an authority figure

who can quote the Bible. On his wall hangs a stitching reading “His Judgment Cometh and that Right

Soon.” He is very right; his own judgment is upon him. But the Warden does not take heed from the

very verses that he frames and displays on the wall. He instead applies this to the prisoners at

Shawshank, especially Andy, who faces the Warden’s constant scrutiny. Norton imposes a man-made

judgment on the prisoners and makes them fight for change or improvement (such as refusing to aid

Andy in receiving government funds for a library, or cutting deals with guards for protection from

sodomites). In fact, it is God’s judgment of the Warden that should be his main concern. Like the

Warden, we often consider ourselves to be “safe,” and concern ourselves with others’ sins and

repentance. The fallen human attempts to distract himself from his own problems by comparing himself

with other more “sinful” men. Another ironic phrase the Warden uses, which later comes to haunt him,

reflects those who mistakenly believe that because they know about God, they are saved. Norton smugly

tells Andy, after applauding him for reading the Bible, that “salvation lies within.” He is right that

salvation lies within, but is wrong in believing that he has been saved. His distortion of The Word

prevents him from seeing the sin in his life, Ware’s idea of true self. It is Andy, the convict, who finds

the necessary wisdom and courage within himself to escape from Shawshank, resulting in his temporal

salvation. But the Warden is unable to look within himself for these same qualities as the police arrive at

Shawshank to arrest him for his newly revealed crimes, and decides that the termination of his own life

is a better solution that punishment for his fraudulence. He dies without looking inward toward his

“God-centered” self (Ware 56) and therefore does not reach salvation. Unlike Andy, his body never

leaves Shawshank’s walls, as if, like the hypocrites in Dante’s Inferno, he is forever “so vilely punished

in the eternal exile (Alighieri 281)” of the prison.
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       This attempt of self-salvation that in reality destroys all hope of salvation is the Warden’s

contapasso. Throughout the film, the crimes that he commits eventually produce his own punishment. In

his desire to get more money, he allows Andy, a former banker, to invest all of his dirty money. By

giving Andy access to the money, Andy creates his own account in which he can finance his escape, and

once out, reveal the Warden’s various crimes. Norton’s decision to murder Tommy, the inmate who has

heard a confession that would release Andy from jail, also leads to his discovery as a crook. Afraid that

Andy would reveal the corruption of Shawshank if he left, despite Andy’s promises not to, Norton lures

Tommy to a remote area and orders his guard captain to shoot him. But this, however, instills a desire

within the convict to turn in the Warden and to run off with his money. Had Andy been released by

Tommy’s evidence, he would have not likely revealed the the Warden’s crimes, and the Warden would

have not killed himself. The final contrapasso will occur in Norton’s afterlife; his life in hell, without

hope of salvation, occurs because on earth he attempted to bring about his own salvation from the police

without the help of God; Pierre Delle Vigne, who is eternally punished for his own suicide in Dante’s

Inferno, articulates the irony of such an act, stating that “moved by scornful satisfaction, believing death

would free [one] from all scorn,” suicide makes “[one] unjust to [one] (Alighieri 188).” Ware, too,

identifies this as the nature of all sins, our fallen condition, and our need from salvation by the hands of

God. Like all humans who have not received Grace, Warden Norton abuses his inherent free will and

position of authority and in the end loses his free will and authority. He becomes, as Ware describes it,

“his own enemy and executioner (Ware 60).”

       Warden Norton of “The Shawshank Redemption” is an accurate representation of the condition

of the fallen man. He is blind to the nature of his sins and his misguided beliefs, if any, in God. He

consistently denies his true self in favor of his worldly being in order to satisfy “the here and now” of
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temporal life. Because he denies God’s grace and shows no desire to be free of sin, Warden Norton

forever remains in a fallen state.
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                                           Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. Mark Musa. Vol. 1. New York: Penguin, 2003.

The Shawshank Redemption. Dir. Frank Darabont. Perf. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Columbia

       TriStar, 1994.

Ware, Kallistos. The Orthodox Way.Rev. ed. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1995.

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