Stephen King Book Review: The Shawshank Redemption

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a story about hope, friendship, identity, and unwavering determination in the most hopeless of places – a prison.

Stephen King's Shawshank Quote


I’ve watched the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, The Shawshank Redemption, so much that I could probably quote the opening narration verbatim. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time. Yet, I never noticed the graphic text that read “Based on the novel by Stephen King” – talk about attention to detail. In fact I stumbled across an e-Book version of the novella while google something that was clearly important at the time. So of course I had to read it.


Stephen King explores hope in Shawshank prison

As someone who avoids horror and Stephen King in general, I must admit that I’d read his short stories any day. As long as there are no pet semataries, creepy clowns, or things that go bump in the night. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a novella published in Stephen Kings short story collection, Different Seasons and chronicles the life of Andrew Dufresne, a banker imprisoned for killing his wife and her lover, in Shawshank state prison between the years 1948 and 1975.

Although it’s set in Shawshank Prison, the tone remains hopeful. King breathes laughter, friendship, and freedom into a space that’s often associated with doom and gloom. Juxtaposing the abstract nature of hope with incarceration, where everyday liberties are taken from inmates, is genius and enables the reader to sympathize with thieves and murderers.

Breaking the fourth wall

Shawshank Redemption Quote

Intriguingly Andy is not the point of view character. Instead Stephen King chose to tell Andy’s tale through the eyes of Red, an inmate who has some clout as a merchant in Shawshan. He is the guy who can get you things. Much like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, The Shawshank Redemption is told in the first person/observer. In fact, this technique is actually used to break the fourth wall, drawing you into Red’s experience. So instead of reading someone’s inner monologue, the narrative style is also very conversational – as if you and Red are on a bus trip across the country and he’s telling you about Andy Dufresne.

King gets creative with it too and Red tells the reader that the events he’s narrating are based on memory and hearsay. There are phrases like, “This is what I know…My guess is…”,  “I heard this from…sources”, or “This Andy told me himself” which build trust between the narrator and you, the reader. Red acknowledges that he’s sharing what he knows to be true or more entertaining in some instances. 

Then, for the last 10 pages or so, Red tells the reader what he thinks happened after the major turning point in the story. I liked this because it has details that the film lacks and it gives the reader insights into Andy’s state of mind after years in prison and shows how well the two friends really knew each other.


King’s use of foreshadowing works well

If I read this novella without having watched the movie, I would have had a lot more “ah” moments. Though I confess, I like the novella’s ending better. Both end the same way but the details differ slightly and for me, the novella’s ending was much more sentimental and rounded off both character arcs beautifully.

Scenes from the film that I missed in the novel

Stephen king quote from Shawshank RedemptionThere were some scenes in the film that weren’t in the book and I missed them. To start, (spoilers!!) the scene where Andy locks himself in the warden’s office to play the opera vinyl over the speakers is only in the adaptation. That scene is classic and Red’s monologue unforgettable. I kind of wish King had the idea originally. Then Andy giving Red the harmonica, and finally, the conversation between Red and Andy about hope – “That’s a dangerous thing in a place like this”. So I missed those but only because I knew they were in the film. Had I read the novella without seeing the movie, my enjoyment and the character development brought on by those scenes would not have been missed.

Final thoughts

Read the book first! Or not. Live your life. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies and stories. It’s also my favorite Stephen King book. Granted its the only Stephen King I’ve ever read so that might change. Its message of hope, friendship, and perseverance will stay with me always and the characters are like old friends with great advice.

I recommend this to anyone who love great storytelling. It’s also a good intro to Stephen King for reader who do not like horror. There’s a reason people line up to buy his books. So read this and then be blown away by the movie.


Trigger Warnings: This book is set in prison, so expect violence, rape, police brutality, suicide.

Buy the book

About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty worldwide bestsellers including his novel 11/22/63, which was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.


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