Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption


Stephen King

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Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Stephen King

Stephen King was born in 1947 in Portland, Maine. His first story, “The Glass Floor,” was published in 1967 in the magazine Startling Mystery Stories. In 1970 he graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Maine, where he also met his future wife, novelist Tabitha (Spruce) King. He published his first novel, the horror story Carrie, in 1974. In 1976, the director Brian De Palma made a successful film adaptation of Carrie starring Sissy Spacek; after the film was released, the novel entered the New York Times bestseller list. Stephen King has published more than 60 novels since Carrie, including influential horror works such as The Shining (1977), Pet Sematary (1983), It (1986), and Misery (1987). From 1977 to 2007, he published seven novels under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman. Though known primarily as a horror writer, King has also written works of fantasy, science fiction, and realism. For example, his novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (1982)—adapted by director Frank Darabont into the Oscar-nominated film The Shawshank Redemption (1994)—is a realist work. Both a critically acclaimed and a popular writer, Stephen King has received a National Medal of Arts and a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters as well as multiple Bram Stoker Awards, Horror Guild Awards, Locus Awards, and World Fantasy Awards, among other honors. Stephen King has a daughter and two sons. His two sons, Joseph and Owen King, are novelists; publishing under the pseudonym Joe Hill, Joseph King has also won awards for his horror and fantasy works. In his 70s, Stephen King is still an active writer, having published two separate novels in 2022.
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Historical Context of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption

In Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the Shawshank prison cellblock where incarcerated protagonists Red and Andy live was constructed in the 1930s under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was a U.S. federal agency created under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to increase jobs during the Great Depression (1929–1940), a stock market crash and subsequent massive economic recession that left many Americans—and people worldwide—unemployed and struggling. The WPA concrete used to construct the cellblock is relatively weak, which allows Andy to dig a tunnel through the wall over a period of decades. The novella’s narrator Red grew up poor and murdered his wife for partly economic motives—her life insurance policy—in 1938, during the Great Depression; thus, real-world historical events partly determined Red’s fate. Meanwhile, Andy served in World War II (1939–1945) prior to his incarceration; his war buddy Jim helps arrange the fake identity, Peter Stevens, that Andy uses after his escape. Finally, the counterculture movements of the 1950s and 1960s, often associated with marijuana use, lead to a surge in Shawshank’s prison population of men convicted of drug crimes. During this surge, Andy is briefly given a cellmate, Normaden, who complains about the cell’s draftiness—foreshadowing the revelation that Andy is hiding a large hole in the wall behind his pin-up poster.

Other Books Related to Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which recounts the escape of the innocent Andy Dufresne from prison, may have been inspired by a non-fiction work, Paul Brickhill’s The Great Escape (1950), about prisoners of war freeing themselves from captivity in Nazi territory during World War II; Andy himself briefly mentions having served in France and Germany during the war. Andy ends up running the Shawshank prison library, where he discovers that his fellow prisoners love the novelists Erle Stanley Gardner (1889–1970) and Louis L’Amour (1908–1988). Erle Stanley Gardner is most famous for inventing the fictional defense attorney Perry Mason, protagonist of more than 80 novels, who often successfully defends clients falsely accused of murder. Louis L’Amour wrote in multiple genres but is most famous for his Westerns, in which his protagonists operate along a wild, free frontier. The prisoners’ preferences for these authors reveals both their longings (for acquittal, for freedom) and ironically contrasts these authors’ works—in which the good go free—with the events of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, where the innocent Andy is incarcerated for decades. Another work of Stephen King’s that focuses on a wrongly convicted man is the novel The Green Mile (1996), in which a Black man named John Coffey is imprisoned and eventually executed for a double murder he didn’t commit.
Key Facts about Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
  • Full Title: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
  • Where Written: Maine
  • When Published: 1982
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Realism, Novella
  • Setting: Shawshank prison in rural Maine
  • Climax: Red decides to join Andy in Mexico
  • Antagonist: Samuel Norton, Shawshank prison
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption

Oscars. The 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, based on Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, was nominated for seven Oscars.

Pin-Up Girls. The actress Rita Hayworth, whose pin-up poster Andy Dufresne uses to hide the hole in his cell wall, really was a popular pin-up among U.S. soldiers during World War II, in which the fictional Andy was supposed to have served.