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Andrew "Andy" Dufresne
Played By: Tim Robbins
- Badass Bookworm: In addition to being a badass, he also spends much of his time reading and building a library.
- Batman Gambit: He digs through the wall of his cell with the rock hammer he has hidden in the bible, hides the hole under the posters he brings in, gets on the warden's good side in order to keep the posters and then manages to escape, incriminating the warden without incriminating himself.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Andy is very helpful to the other inmates, and is willing to do whatever he can to make Shawshank easier, but he's also Norton and Hadley's worst nightmare. He's also quite competent in hand-to-hand - the Sisters always target him when he's alone and outnumbered, but he's still able to fight them off sometimes.
- Book Safe: The rock hammer is in the Bible.
- The Chessmaster: Andy plays chess, and mentioning chess is a minor theme throughout the film. Andy also always analyzes everything and consistently stays several moves ahead. His entire escape could be seen as maneuvering pieces carefully to achieve checkmate and win the game (the warden's shirt and shoes, the rope, making people think he was suicidal instead of planning to escape, and it's a sure thing Andy checked the weather and knew there was going to be a thunderstorm that night, which would cover his escape noises and make it harder for the dogs to track him). Finally, Andy not only took all of the Warden's ill-gotten money, he did it by taking all the documentation that allowed him to prove he was Randall Stevens. Even if something went wrong and Andy could not withdraw the money, his final move would have been to make sure the Warden couldn't get to it either.
- The Determinator: He keeps at trying to escape until he succeeds. He also persistently sends letters to the government until they provide funds for his library.
- Deadpan Snarker: In the midst of his calm and calculating personality, he gets more than a few snarks in. For example, when discovering a maggot in his food, Brooks asks him if he's going to eat it. His response is a deadpan, "I hadn't planned on it."
- Down the Drain: He escapes through a sewer pipe.
- Guile Hero: He manages to escape by outsmarting everyone, including the warden Norton.
- Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Trope Namer. He was "for-real innocent" when he was arrested, but becomes an accomplice in money laundering while in prison.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: He and Red quickly become the best of friends, to the point Red follows him to Mexico.
- Incriminating Indifference: His lack of any clear grief or sadness over his wife was the final nail in the coffin for his trial, with the judge remarking that he was "icy and remorseless." In actuality Andy just has a reserved and stoic personality that sticks even in prison. And even then, his wife was killed immediately after he discovered she'd been having an affair; circumstances like that would give most people conflicted feelings and difficulty expression emotions.
- The Mentor: He helped Tommy to pass his GED with a C+ average.
- Not So Stoic:
- The look on his face when the judge sentences him to Shawshank is that of abject horror.
- He's emotionless, until he loses his chance to go free legitimately.
- Perpetual Tourist: He ends up in the Pacific coast of Mexico at the end of the movie.
- The Quiet One: He's marked by seldom saying a word, and by staying completely quiet on the first night.
- Shorter Means Smarter: The book describes Andy as being especially short and tiny, but he's still the most intelligent person in the story. When the guards find his escape tunnel, they have to struggle to find a man small enough to scout it out.
- The Smart Guy: And a handy Evil Genius for Norton.
- The Stoic: Barely shows any emotion despite having one of the best excuses to be unhappy. This is part of the reason why he ended up convicted of murdering his wife as he expressed no sign of regret or sorrow in the courtroom.
- Took a Level in Badass: At first, he's barely able to get by, but then he becomes more competent to the point of getting both Norton and Hadley arrested afters years of abuse.
- Wrongly Accused: He really didn't kill his wife and her lover, but still did 19 years of a life sentence for doing so.
Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding
Played By: Morgan Freeman
- The Atoner: The only one in Shawshank willing to own up to his guilt, he spends 40 years in prison making up for his crime.
- Black Best Friend: Morgan Freeman plays the best friend to Andy.
- Brutal Honesty: When he tells the parole officers exactly what he thinks about himself and them, the honesty is enough to let him out of prison.
- Captivity Harmonica: He is given a harmonica as a gift from Andy, but doesn't play it because it reminds him of his free days where he would play the harmonica.
- Cool Old Guy: He's been in prison almost as long as Andy has been alive, and uses this experience to help him out.
- Deadpan Snarker: Particularly in the narration, he always has a quip ready for every situation.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: He narrates the story while Andy is the main character.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: He ends up good enough friends with Andy that he follows him to Mexico.
- Hope Is Scary: "Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane."
- Friend in the Black Market: Red's main role in prison is to help smuggle things in on request for the other inmates.
- Nice Hat: His black and gray knit cap.
- Ocean Awe: At the end, he remarks on how blue the Pacific is in his dream.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: No one who is casual with him calls him Ellis, just Red.
- The Old Convict: A lifer who knows the ropes at Maine's Shawshank State Prison.
- Race Lift: A redheaded Irishman in the novel, which gets a reference in the film.
- Supporting Protagonist: Second protagonist to Andy.
Played By: James Whitmore
- Cool Old Guy: One of the popular inmates, he's nice and educated. Red points out this is why he doesn't want to leave prison, as those assets won't mean much on the outside."The man's been here 50 years, Heywood. 50 years. This is all he knows. In here he's an important man, an educated man. Out there he's nothin'. A used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn't get a library card if he tried."
- Driven to Suicide: After being released on parole and feeling overwhelmed in a now-unfamiliar world, he hangs himself.
- Goodbye, Cruel World!: He writes a suicide note to his friends in jail.
- Hidden Depths: For being such a nice guy, it's hard to believe he killed his wife and daughter after a bad streak of poker.
- Nice Guy: He's very nice to the younger convicts, to the point that when he tries to kill Heywood, most of the others know he won't go through with it.
- The Old Convict: When he's finally paroled, he has been in prison for 50 years.
- Pet the Dog: Taking care of Jake, the baby raven. This is combined with Bait-and-Switch when he requests the grub Andy found in his meal.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Seeing the outside world moving too fast and not being able to provide useful work because of it causes his Driven to Suicide.
Played By: William Sadler
- Book Dumb: His lack of knowledge in literature makes for a hilarious scene in which he misnames several books and authors. Also ee Innocently Insensitive below
- Butt-Monkey: Heywood provides the brunt of the film's comedy relief mostly by being the butt of the most jokes (such as the horse apple sequence).
- Deadpan Snarker: Not to the same extent as Red, but he does have his moments as well, particularly in the early scene when he's picking on Fat Ass.
- Innocently Insensitive: Heywood congratulates Brooks on his parole, not realizing that Brooks' long incarceration has left him socially and psychologically dependent on Shawshank prison. As a result, Heywood is shocked and hurt by Brooks' angry response. Heywood's friends have to explain to him how Institutional Syndrome works.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The first clue we get that he isn’t the sadist he appears to be is when he quietly begs for 'Fatass' to stop crying, knowing full well that Hadley will beat him for it. He's noticeably upset the next morning upon finding the man died of his injuries.
- When he's suddenly attacked by Brooks, the rest of the inmates immediately think that Heywood did something to piss the old convict off. Turns out he found out about Brooks's parole and only went to visit him to congratulate him and say goodbye.
Played By: Gil Bellows
- Adaptational Heroism: In the novella, Tommy keeps quiet about Andy's innocence in exchange for a transfer to a more comfortable prison. In the film he resolves to help Andy and Norton and Hadley work together to murder Tommy before he can testify. Not to mention even when the Warden implies he'll make life hard for Tommy if he does testify, Tommy is adamant about helping Andy.
- Book Dumb: He needs lots of help with passing his GED, but is also willing to learn.
- Death by Adaptation: In the novella, Tommy isn't killed by Norton and Hadley, but rather given a transfer to a minimum-security prison in exchange for keeping quiet about Andy's innocence.
- He Knows Too Much: Killed to make sure Andy isn't released.
- Hidden Depths: Red describes him as "finding brains he never knew he had" under Andy's tutelage.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: At first he comes off as cocky and boisterous, bragging freely about the prison time he's done, but then it's revealed he wants to get his GED to make an honest living for his wife and infant daughter.
- Morality Pet: to Andy, not that he needed one.
- Never Learned to Read: By his own admission, he "don't read so good". Andy starts him from the beginning teaching him the alphabet before helping him with his GED.
- Sacrificial Lion: His subplot takes up a reasonable amount of screen time before he's killed off.
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: He is abruptly killed by Norton and Hadley in the movie.
Played By: Mark Rolston
- Adaptational Badass: Villainous version. In the novella, Red notes that Bogs and his gang did assault Andy occasionally, but mostly left him alone because he gives them a hard fight every time, and the Sisters prefer easier prey. In the film he's more of a Blood Knight. He targets Andy deliberately, and at one point tells him, "Good. You fight. It's better that way."
- Asshole Victim: He is brutally beaten and crippled by Hadley as retaliation for Andy's rape and beating, and he deserved every minute of it.
- Depraved Bisexual: He doesn't care who he has sex with as long as he does it by force.
- Dirty Coward: He's only a threat when he has The Sisters to back him up. When they're out of the picture, he's every bit as vulnerable and cowardly as you would expect rapist scum like him to be.
- Jerkass: In general, he's a rapist, played straight who doesn't care who gets hurt as long as he gets what he wants.
- Laser-Guided Karma: After attacking and raping Andy for two years, he beats Andy within an inch of his life. Then after a week in the hole, he gets beaten within an inch of his life by Hadley, permanently paralyzing him. No one sheds a single tear for him.
- Prison Rape: His gang's favorite hobby is to rape weaker inmates.
- Sissy Villain: he cries and screams as he tries to get away from Hadley before he gets his shit ruined.
- Smug Snake: He thinks he can get away with everything. Unfortunately for him, he is wrong.
- Terms of Endangerment: If his conversations with Andy are of any indication, he does this a lot with his victims.Andy: (brandishing a handful of corrosive powder) If you get this in your eyes, it blinds you.Bogs: Honey. Hush.
- Villainous Breakdown: Bogs is often calm and collected during his heinous acts, but when he gets beaten by Hadley, he loses composure and starts screaming for help.
Played By: Bill Bolender
- Adaptation Name Change: In the novella, it's Elwood Blatch, nicknamed "El".
- Ambiguous Situation: The novella leaves it a bit questionable whether he really did the murders, as he gets a few details wrong and is pegged by multiple people as definitely capable of making something like that up, on top of the massive coincidence on the timing. The movie makes it more clear that he did.
- Bald of Evil: In the novella, Tommy describes him as "mostly bald". (In the movie, his hairline seems to be pretty high up there, but he doesn't seem to be what you would call "bald".)
- Hair-Trigger Temper:Tommy Williams: He was just so fucking high-strung! Like a pistol with a sawed-off firing pin. I knew a guy who had a Smith and Wesson Police Special with a sawed-off firing pin. It wasn't no good for nothing, except maybe for something to jaw about. The pull on that gun was so light that it would fire if this guy, Johnny Callahan, his name was, if he turned his record-player on full volume and put it on top of one of the speakers. That's how El Blatch was. I can't explain it any better. I just never doubted that he had greased some people.
- Jerkass: Killed Andy's wife and her lover for no reason than that the man woke up during Blatch's burglary of his house and "gave me shit". He was delighted at the discovery that they blamed someone else for the crime.
- Karma Houdini: He ended up in prison for a lesser crime than murder and with a relatively short sentence (6-12 years). Meanwhile, another person is in prison for life and serves 19 years for the crime he committed.
- Miles Gloriosus: Villainous version. At least, it's ambiguous as to whether or not he's really committed all the crimes he boasts about, and Tommy finds it hard to believe that someone that twitchy and aggressive could have robbed more than a hundred houses. However, he never doubts that he's done some of what he says, and that's scary enough.Red: I've known a few Elwood Blatches in my time at Shawshank — the trigger-pullers with the crazy eyes. Such fellows want you to think they got away with the equivalent of the Hope Diamond on every caper, even if they got caught with a two-dollar Timex and nine bucks on the one they're doing time for.
- Motor Mouth: Tommy was his cellmate, and said that one of the most notable things about him was that "he never shut up about places he'd been, jobs he'd pulled, women he fucked, or people he killed".
- Smug Smiler: Complete with a creepy, rasping laugh.
- Smug Snake: He talks freely about the crime he got away with committing in his prison cell, knowing he will most likely get away with it.
Staff of Shawshank Penitentiary
Warden Samuel Norton
Played By: Bob Gunton
- Adaptational Villainy: A small but very crucial change is made the film to turn him from an evil character to a purely evil one. Norton isn't any less of a corrupt, hypocritical bastard in the novella and he still suppresses evidence of Andy's innocence out of both greed and spite, but he doesn't go so far as to have Tommy murdered to cover it up, instead buying his silence by transferring him to a cushier prison with a weekend furlough program.
- Big Bad: The brutal and corrupt warden of Shawshank.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: He seems like a straight-and-narrow guy with rigid by-the-book philosophy. Only later is it revealed he's actually a ruthless Hypocrite.
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: He’s the smooth to Hadley’s rough.
- Churchgoing Villain: Norton loves God and the Bible... too bad he seems to love his evil more.
- Composite Character: He's a composite of various characters from the novella; in that, Shawshank prison was run by several different figures with varying degrees of cruelty.
- Death by Adaptation: In the novella, he doesn't kill himself, but rather resigns in embarrassment after Andy's escape (mind, he never orchestrates anyone's murder in the original story, either). He's arguably a Karma Houdini in the novella, too, since the criminal actions he still does commit go undiscovered.
- Dirty Coward: He is willing to murder someone, and deliberately keep someone else in prison for a crime he didn't commit, in order to protect himself from being arrested for money laundering. And again in the end, where he commits suicide because he's afraid of being imprisoned.
- Driven to Suicide: Rather than allow the police to arrest him, he shoots himself in the head.
- Faux Affably Evil: His politeness at the beginning carries an entirely different tone upon viewing his heinous acts.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: This bespectacled man is pure evil.
- Hate Sink: Warden Norton was written to be a completely unsympathetic character, and it shows. You may appreciate the scripting and Bob Gunton's portrayal of a genuinely menacing antagonist, but you will absolutely loathe this man by the end of the film.
- Hiding Behind Religion: He claims to love the Bible but he does some thoroughly un-Christian things (murder, punishing people for crimes he knows they didn't commit, and pilfering money). Not to mention as the film progresses he seems less interested in God and more in his own public image.
- Irony: States that he hates it when God's name is used in vain....and yet he states a different curse word several seconds afterwards, in his case, the "A"-word (despite the fact that the Bible also condemns swearing).
- Jerkass: In addition to being a greedy hypocrite, he's also very harsh towards Andy.
- Karmic Death: The deeply religious Norton commits suicide - which is a violation of the Fifth Commandment, and a one-way ticket straight to Hell.
- Kick the Dog: After having Tommy murdered, he throws Andy in isolation for two months while bragging that he plans on destroying everything Andy built to make Shawshank a better place.
- Laser-Guided Karma: After committing heinous acts for the better part of the movie, he is about to get arrested by the police for everything he did while the man he kept imprisoned wrongly runs free. Surrounded, he opts to shoot himself instead. Made better by the fact that his own favorite bible passage is about judgment.
- Non-Action Big Bad: Norton has his authority to enforce his threats and attack dogs like Hadley to back him up. He doesn't need to get his own hands dirty.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Seems like this at first. The more the movie goes on, the harder this trope gets averted.
- The Sociopath: Particularly chilling is the manner in which he approaches Andy over Tommy's shooting, telling him how it "broke Hadley's heart" to kill the man as he was "trying to escape". Norton has absolutely no empathy whatsoever, and it is legitimately unnerving to see just how unfazed he is about the suffering he causes for his many victims.
- Stealing from the Till: His money laundering is why he can't allow Andy to be freed. Andy even notes he's gotten kickbacks on his kickbacks.
- Tantrum Throwing: At the end, during his Villainous Breakdown, he throws a tantrum about a conspiracy.
- Too Dumb to Live: Granted, his Villainous Breakdown may have prevented him from thinking straight, but one would expect a crook who is cold enough to eliminate threats to his operation like he did Tommy to take such precautions as disappearing after the escape of the one person who could expose him.
- Wardens Are Evil: One of the most monstrous characters in Shawshank, and he's in charge of the place.
Capt. Byron T. Hadley
Played By: Clancy Brown
- Adaptational Villainy: Like Norton, he's definitely a nasty piece of work in the novella, but is never stated to have taken anyone's life during his time working at Shawshank, and is forced to retire due to a heart attack before Tommy ever arrives at the prison.
- Catchphrase: "On your feet!"
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: He’s the rough to Norton’s smooth.
- Character Tic: Hadley has a tendency to take off his hat before he begins beating on someone.
- Composite Character: Of several different guards in the original novella.
- Dirty Cop: A dirty prison guard in his case. He engages in ruthless tactics like beatings (see No-Holds-Barred Beatdown) for crimes as minor as crying. and helps Norton murder Tommy.
- Disproportionate Retribution: He has leeway on this given his job requires him to keep an extremely tight leash on the inmates at all times to keep them under control. He still crosses it when beating an inmate to death for crying and very nearly murdering Andy for implying his wife was unfaithful.
- The Dragon: To Norton. While Norton was the one who planned killing Tommy, it was Hadley who carried it out.
- Entitled Bastard: Inherits $30,000 and all he can do is complain about the taxes he'll have to pay on it. In the novella, Red says he's the only man he's ever known who had the nerve to bitch about inheriting thousands of dollars.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: He has a wife and kids. Averted with his brother, who he doesn't care about remotely and doesn't mourn his passing due to an apparent estrangement.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Has a lower and deeper voice than most characters.
- Flowery Insults: Hadley seemingly thinks of insults in his spare time.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Anything and everything pisses off Hadley; he's in a perpetually foul mood and reacts violently to whatever the inmates do.
- Inelegant Blubbering: The narration reveals that Hadley cried like a little girl when the authorities came to arrest him for his crimes.
- Jerkass: He's about as pleasant as you'd expect a short-tempered, needlessly violent corrupt sadist to be.
- Laser-Guided Karma: It's deeply satisfying to know that he cried like a little girl while being arrested, especially since years earlier he'd beaten an inmate to death for crying.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: He doles these out like he's Santa Claus and everyone asked for internal bleeding for Christmas.
- Pet the Dog: He beats up Andy's rapist to the point that the man is permanently disabled; presumably this is because Andy gave him financial advice (in the novella, Red thinks Andy most likely bribed some of the guards to do it). He was also kind enough to point out Andy to fellow guard Dekins, who needed financial advice.
- Police Brutality: No-Holds-Barred Beatdown is his specialty.
- Psycho for Hire: He shows no sympathy for any of the inmates, which may be why Norton wanted him so much.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: He's likely to say multiple curse words in a single sentence.
- This Is Gonna Suck: When he’s arrested, he knows just how awful it's going to be. Especially because he is a prison guard.