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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.
- Book Safe: The rock hammer is in the Bible.
- The Chessmaster: Everyone else is outsmarted by him. See also Batman Gambit and Guile Hero.
- 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, "No, I did not plan 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.
- Idiot Ball: Andy could have saved Tommy's life by either taking Tommy's information to a lawyer rather than Norton (granted, he thought he could trust Norton) or simply warning Tommy about Norton (we know he didn't keep it entirely under wraps since he told Red).
- Incriminating Indifference: Though he was really doing this because he was actually innocent.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 Lamb: See Surprisingly Sudden Death, below. His death drives Andy into a Heroic B.S.O.D..
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: He is abruptly killed by Norton and Hadley in the movie.
- Too Dumb to Live: He blithely tells Norton he'd be more than willing to testify on Andy's behalf, rather than being at all wary of Norton.
Played By: Mark Rolston
- 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.
- 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.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Both an aggressor and a victim of one. See Laser-Guided Karma.
- Prison Rape: His gang's favorite hobby is to rape weaker inmates.
- Sissy Villain: His gang is called "The Sisters." Also, see Prison Rape.
- Also, 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.
Played By: Bill Bolender
- Adaptation Name Change: In the novella, it's Elwood Blatch, nicknamed "El".
- 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.
- 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: He loves God and the Bible... too bad he's still evil.
- 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.
- Hypocrite: He claims to love the Bible but he does some thoroughly un-Christian things (killing people, punishing people for crimes he knows they didn't commit, and pilfering money).
- Jerkass: In addition to being a greedy hypocrite, he's also very harsh towards Andy.
- 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.
- 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.
- Villainous Breakdown: In the end, see Tantrum Throwing above.
- 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: Engages in ruthless tactics like beatings (see No-Holds-Barred Beatdown) for crimes as minor as crying.
- 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.
- 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. 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. Specially because he is a police officer.