Ropes of Oppression: Escaping the Noose

The human conscience is an interesting specimen. From it spurs imagination, curiosity, and all other elements that make us human. The influences of the outside world impact the way one might deem an action. They can even sway us to steer away from the direction in which our moral compass is pointing us. The ropes of oppression can strangle the soul out of anyone, but through the means of human connections, sense of self, and a glance at freedom, Lucas Jackson of Cool Hand Luke and Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption overcome the brokenness they are made to feel by their situations. They escape the noose before it has the chance to take over and dictate their lives in their entireties.

Lucas Jackson of Cool Hand Luke is not the stereotypical prison type. Arrested for taking the heads off parking meters with a crowbar while intoxicated, he stands out from the rest of the criminals in the Florida road prison. He quickly earns the respect of the prisoners, not by being fierce or macho, but rather by being his charming, quirky self. Dragline, resident leader of the prison crowd, takes an interest in Luke from the very beginning. His quick mouth and silent resignation earn him attention from Dragline and the rest of the gang, and his determination on the first day of work makes him stand out. As the group becomes fonder of Luke, he fights Dragline on Sunday, the day they get to rest from the week’s hard work on the road. As Luke takes hit after hit, he continues to get up. Dragline ends up begging Luke to stop, along with the rest of the chain gang, but he continues to fight until he is bruised and bloodied beyond recognition. This resistance earns him incredible respect and admiration, even from the guards and the warden. He earns the nickname “Cool Hand Luke” after he tricks another inmate into losing a card game he could have easily won. The nickname Cool Hand Luke sticks with him throughout the movie because of his cool reactions to anything that is thrown his way. He receives notice that his mother has died, and the warden puts him in the “box”, a small shack meant to isolate and frighten the prisoners, to keep him from running. However, Luke’s time in the box does not stop him from being determined. He attempts to run away three separate times. After the second attempt, the guards attempt to beat his resilience out of him. He loses it at the very end, convincing the guards and prisoners alike that he is broken, because he truly is. On his third attempt to run away, he is shot and killed by his least favorite guard. Until the very end, Luke keeps cool.

In The Shawshank Redemption, a Maine banker is tried and convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. Andy Dufresne, a generally unfeeling man with a cold demeanor, is sent to the notorious Shawshank Prison with two life sentences to serve. The current prisoners take bets on who would be the first to crack, and Andy is chosen by Red, the smuggler and leader of the prison crew. Despite this, Red takes a liking to Andy as soon as he gets to know him. Andy asks Red for a rock hammer, claiming it was one of his hobbies, and Red easily smuggles it to him. Andy endures the first two years of his prison sentence quietly. However, he received negative attention from those who worked with him in the laundry room, and was beaten and raped regularly. Red uses his leverage to remove Andy from that situation, landing a job on the roof. Andy meets a guard there, and begins to use his education as leverage for better treatment. He ends up spending most of his time in the library, where he sets up a financial consultancy desk, helping the guards with their financial needs. He helps them hide money from the IRS, earning their trust. He works on the expansion of the library by writing letters to the state senate to receive funds, which are eventually answered with $200. Andy is also sent records for the phonograph by the state senate, which he manages to play through the prison loudspeaker system, causing a ruckus. His defiance earns him a beating and time in the “hole”, a nickname for the solitary confinement cell. Andy is told by another inmate that in a former prison, he was a cellmate of an inmate who spoke of murdering a woman and her lover, all while her banker husband went to prison for it and took the blame. Andy, hopeful at last, goes to the warden with this information. Andy tells the warden that he would never speak of the hidden money or any of the financial favors that he did, and the warden is outraged that he would even bring it up. The warden dismisses a stricken Andy, who is thrown into solitary confinement. The warden then finds the inmate who gave Andy the information, and has him killed. Andy and Red continue to grow throughout the movie. Red fears that Andy will kill himself, and during one of their conversations in the prison yard, Andy reveals his hopes to Red. His dream place is Zihuatanejo, Mexico. He tells Red that in a huge field up in Buxton, Maine there is a wall of rocks by a tree. Under one of those rocks, one that doesn’t belong, there is something for him. When Red gets out, Andy wants him to go and get it. As Andy’s anger is fueled, so is his hope for life on the outside. One stormy night, Andy removes a poster on his wall, hiding a man-sized tunnel that he had dug with Red’s rock hammer. He strikes a sewage line in time with the lightning, a perfect combination to burst the pipe. He escapes through a stream and is never found. Red eventually reaches the time for parole, and gets out of the prison system. He finds Andy’s gift, money and directions on where to find him, and he breaks parole to get to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where he and Andy are reunited at last. Throughout the duration of the film, Andy takes his hope and places it into his escape and eventually his future beyond the prison walls, something that many prisoners struggle to accomplish. From a young age, we are taught that sharing with others is the best way to relieve whatever might be ailing us. Sharing struggles with others helps us to recognize that we are never truly alone.

Luke and Andy both see this as an advantage in the prison system. Doris Lessing describes the group mentality that comes along with being a part of any certain group of people: “Very few people indeed are happy as solitaries, and they tend to be seen by their neighbors as peculiar or selfish or worse. [but] Most people cannot stand being alone for long” (Lessing 307). Lessing touches on the idea that people need other people in order to thrive. This is especially true in a prison setting, where it appears to be prisoners against guards. In Andy’s case, he was a new idol to the residents of Shawshank. He appeared stoic as ever as he met his new comrades, but they admired him because he did not seem fazed by their intimidation techniques. During his first night in the prison, the other inmates attempted to get the new men to crack under the isolation and pressure. Red had already bet against Andy making it through the first night, but in the end he persevered and never made a sound. Luke made a different appeal. On his first day with the chain gang, he is washing his hands during the common hour, and the resident leader, Dragline, smarts off to him. Luke responds with nothing but a small smirk and a cheeky response. Nonetheless, he won the guys over with nothing but a bit of charisma and charm. Keeping true to one’s core values throughout life can be difficult for the average person, but what about one surrounded by criminals twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? Remembering oneself is difficult in any society, but it is exponentially more difficult to keep an identity whilst spending time in an institution designed to degrade and dehumanize its inhabitants. The prison system crushes all senses of individuality, but these two characters managed to keep true to themselves during their sentences.

Andy finds his truth in the playing of the music through the prison loudspeaker system. As Andy continued through his sentence, we he was on good terms with the prison staff. One afternoon, he locked a guard in the bathroom and managed to play a record through a phonograph and had it heard throughout the prison. After doing this, he received two weeks in solitary confinement, some of the longest time ever spent there. When he returned, he impressed his comrades by saying that,” it was the easiest time [he’d] ever [done]” (TSR). Luke takes energy and feeds off of his friends seemingly as much as they feed off of him. He does get angry with them after his second capture, however.Unfortunately, they take a bit to recover from it. “Quit feeding off me!” he shouted angrily, after being beaten and threatened by the menacing guards. This was the beginning of the end for Luke’s bravery and strength. This pushed away some of the prisoners because they started to see Luke’s weakness, which was not something he was eager to reveal to them early on. The dehumanization eventually got to Luke, triggering a negative reaction. Instead of responding negatively, Andy started to plan his escape. Psychologists Herbert C. Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton describe the dehumanization process and the fight to remain human in their essay over the My Lai Massacre. The prisoners are simply,”bodies to be counted and entered into their reports, as faceless figures…” (Kelman 142). In this manner, the prisoners are reduced to nothing but numbers. There is a constant fight to maintain the essence of humanity in its simplest form. Andy finds it through the music. Luke finds it through keeping his joy to himself.

It is sometimes in the smallest things that humans tend to find the most pleasure. It is also commonly recognized that having something taken away only increases the desire for the item. When prisoners are new to the facilities, having just had their freedom taken away, that can seem like a big deal. It very well should. It also provides a stronghold in which to take refuge from the harsh reality of the prison scene. Andy keeps his sense of sanity and wits about him as he plans his escape over years and years of work. His idea of freedom is still untapped potential, an idea still untouched by institutionalization. As the warden discovers Andy is missing, the narration says,” He was gone before they even knew he was planning to escape” (TSR). Luke’s escape on the other hand, is much more desperate. He attempts multiple times to escape, but his plans are undeveloped. He never looks past the initial getaway. While his escapes are successful as far as making it away from the prison, he never knows what to do as soon as he gets out, subsequently getting him caught in the long run. As he is caught for the final time, he asks God for a sign. At the next moment, Dragline comes in, signaling Luke’s demise. He is shot in the neck as he peers out the window, something he certainly did not think through. Situationally, Luke and Andy did the best the could with what they had. Psychologists Lee ross and Richard E. Nisbett, along with commentary from Erich Fromm, have written an article on the role that situations play on the outcomes of social practices. “Often, the situational variable makes quite a bit of difference. Occasionally, in fact, it makes nearly all the difference” (Ross 149). Due to the captivity and location of the prison, Luke and Andy feel the pressure to escape more so than if they happened to be imprisoned by a certain social structure or style of living.

Throughout the most trying times of life, humans look to what they know best in order to arm themselves with help to get through whatever comes their way. As the story lines follow both Luke and Andy, respectively, it is clear that they use the human connections they luckily have within the prison system to maintain a certain sense of humanity and resist the dehumanization impressed upon them by the guards and the wardens. They also rely on the way they grew up feeling and the way they know they should feel to stay true to themselves as humans throughout their stays in prison. Finally, they draw on the small glimpse of freedom they both receive during their prison sentences. After all, both Luke and Andy manage to make it to freedom in the end, be it in death or in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. The ropes of oppression bind tightly to the skin, but it is through these methods that true freedom and self-realization may be met.