Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding is a fictional character and the deuteragonist in The Shawshank Redemption. A longtime inmate at Shawshank who can smuggle anything in, he is the narrator of the Stephen King short story and movie.
Red's father died when he was forty-two years old. In the novella, he is of Irish descent, but in the film, this comment is played off as a jest about his nickname. His father-in law was a rich businessman who agreed to a marriage only if Red took a job in his business. It’s not mentioned in the movie. When Red was young he discovered his wife had a valuable life insurance policy. In order to get the payout from this policy, he cut the brakes on her car. Unbeknownst to him, she picked up her neighbor, who brought along her infant. This resulted in the deaths of three people, which earned him a life sentence in prison.
Red is a prison smuggler, active since a long time. His trade is explained in detail in the novel. Red explains that he can smuggle a variety of goods from outside and he sells them in return for the price plus his own margin. Red has smuggled booze, posters, cigarettes, milkshakes and once even arranged a movie screening. He has occasionally done time in solitary for the acts. Red is also an important convict with this influence over prison guards and overall prison society.
When Andy arrives Red doesn't consider him strong enough to live in Shawshank. Thinking that Andy is weak, he bets cigarettes that Andy will be the first of the new wave of convicts to break down in tears. He loses the bet, however. He explains that in the beginning, Andy was very quiet and didn't say two words. Finally, after a month has gone by, Andy approaches him while Red is playing catch with Heywood and Floyd.
Andy tells him he understood that Red was a guy that could get you something you wanted inside the prison. Andy asks Red to smuggle a rock hammer from him. Red is initially wary and reluctant but agrees and smuggles it in return for ten dollars. After that day Red becomes curious about Andy, and likes him for his low key style. After a while they do trade often and Andy asks Red to smuggle a poster of Rita Hayworth. Red obliges gladly.
Eventually, Red allows Andy to join his gang of long serving inmates. Over time they become even better and closer friends. After Bogs is beaten by Hadley and Andy is rescued, Red arranges for a Rita Hayworth poster to him as a gift, free of cost. Red also helps him in small jobs when Andy does the accounting for prison guards. Red first describes the sense of freedom Andy gave him when they drank beer after tarring a roof in 1950, a favor Hadley gives to Andy in return for his banking service. Red and Andy share the same fondness for chess and they play it often.
In 1955, Brooks Hatlen is to be released from prison. When Brooks seems dismayed and sorrowful at his own parole, Red explains to Andy and other inmates that Brooks is 'institutionalized' which means Shawshank is Brook's home and only world now. Red says that with time, inmates depend on jail to survive and they have no life outside.
Soon after, when Andy plays an opera song over the jail speaker, Red describes the same sense of freedom he feels due to Andy. Andy tells Red that he believes in the power of hope. Red is a pessimist who dismisses hope and advises Andy to stop hoping for a better life. In 1957, Red is eligible for parole after the first time he was denied. Red tries to convince the Parole Board that he is 'rehabilitated'. However his application is rejected. Andy gifts Red a harmonica upon learning that he was a good player once.
Red, who had given up playing it since it 'didn't make much sense in jail' starts playing it. In 1963, with 'Inside Out' program being implemented, Andy tells Red a lot about the Warden's scams and how he is helping the Warden launder the money. In 1966, Red allows another inmate into their group, Tommy Williams. As Tommy is curious about Andy and why he is in prison, Red tells him he is in for murder. Andy learns of his wife's true killer from Tommy and when he confronts the Warden he is sentenced to the hole.
After Tommy is murdered and Andy is released from the hole, Andy is regretful. Red tries to console him. Andy asks Red if he thinks Red will ever get out of there. Red is pessimistic, saying that he is institutionalised and he will be released when he is old. Red also reflects how most of his life was wasted in prison. Andy then tells him of his dream to go to a Mexican island named Zihuatanejo. Andy describes his dream in detail to Red who is amazed at Andy's capacity to hope. However Red tells Andy to stop dreaming so big. He also says that after spending 40 years in prison, he too is institutionalised. Andy then asks Red to visit Buxton, Maine and find an oak tree in a particular hay-field. Andy has buried a gift for Red in the hay-field. After listening to this Red starts suspecting that Andy is about to commit suicide. He is convinced when Heywood tells them that Andy borrowed six feet of rope that day. That evening Andy glances at Red as he goes back to his cell. Red spends the whole night worrying .
That stormy night, Andy escapes from Shawshank Prison after being there for nearly 20 years. Red is brought in Andy's cell the next day where he sees that Andy has escaped. They then discover a tunnel behind the Rita Hayworth poster. Andy used the poster he got from Red to dig a tunnel using the rock hammer he purchased from Red. For 19 years Andy tunneled away. Red is profoundly impacted by Andy's escape. He realizes that Andy made the best possible use of his time and skills and he also realizes that hope is the spirit that made Andy do this. Red is able to guess most of the escape plan.
After the death of Norton and arrest of Byron Hadley, Red and his gang discuss Andy often but also miss him. Red then consoles himself by saying that Andy was like a free bird never meant to be caged. A few days later Red receives a blank postcard from Fort Hancock, Texas indicating that Andy crossed the border over it. Red is very glad that Andy is no longer in jail.
After 40 years of being in prison Red appears in front of the Parole Board for the third time in his life. Unlike before when he only pretended that he was rehabilitated this time Red says that 'Rehabilitated' is a made up politicians word that means nothing. It is only an excuse for politicians to place Parole Board members and pay them. Red confesses that his crime was terrible and he regrets doing it each day of his life not just because he is in jail or because he is expected to. He regrets it because he was a stupid foolish kid who had no sense. Red says that he wishes to go back in time and stop the kid but he is now an old man and he has to live with that. Red then says that he doesn't care about Parole anymore.
Red is paroled. As a parolee, Red finds it difficult to adapt to outside life. He works as a bag boy in Food Way and lives in the same house Brooks had. In the novel Red explains how he feels as a parolee, he says that it is the biggest change he ever adapted to. The world outside is fast and much larger. The songs too are too far and loud compared to the ones he listened to before he went in. Red finds it awkward to be around women. He keeps asking his boss for small things including going to the toilet, because he isn't used to doing anything without say-so. Red keeps thinking about breaking his parole rules and going back to Shawshank where according to him, things make sense. But he keeps thinking of Andy and his escape and so he is able to keep a positive attitude. He acknowledges that he will not be able to make it on the outside but he hopes he can. After a while, Red travels to Buxton, Maine and finds the particular hay-field Andy asked him to find. There under an oak tree he finds a volcanic glass rock. He finds a tin underneath. Enclosed in it is 5,000 in cash and a letter from Andy which he wrote after escaping. The letter states that Andy is doing fine in 'the town he mentioned', about to start his own resort and needs a man like Red. The letter also states that 'Hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies.' Red is overwhelmed. He then carves his name in the house he lives in, right next to Brooks' name which he carved just before committing suicide. Red then travels to Zihuatanejo and reunites with Andy.
Personality and Traits
Red is a cynical and pessimistic man. He presumably has had a rough childhood. He explains that he was full of hatred and impulsive rage when he committed his crime. Red is remorseful and extremely guilty about his crime. He however has a calm, talkative disposition .Due to this Red is able to mingle with other prisoners and be a popular man in Shawshank. Red has accepted that he is a criminal and he has no hope for a better life.
He sees no future and no positive. Red also says that since he has been in jail most of his life, he won't be able to make it on the outside. It is Red who believes in the theory of institution life, in which according to him, prisoners get used to jail and slowly depend on it and soon the jail is their only world. Their life outside is destroyed. However upon meeting Andy, Red's personality begins to change.
Due to Andy's influence, Red starts playing the harmonica as he did in his youth. He also gets good at playing chess. Red is closer to Andy than anyone else and they are very close friends. Red says that Andy made the prisoners feel free, and he himself felt a sense of freedom he never had before in jail. In the novel, Red says that Andy was the only prisoner who could make him forget that he was in for life.
At first Red dismisses the concept of hope. According to Red, hope is useless and it can drive a man insane. However he sees the positive effect Andy has on other prisoners as time goes by including himself. As time passes Red grows less pessimistic. However when Andy tells him of his dream to live in Zihuatanejo, Red is very pessimistic and tells him to stop dreaming. The night Andy escapes, Red is expecting the worst to happen.
However Andy actually escapes. Red is profoundly impacted by Andy's escape. He realizes that Andy made the best possible use of his time and skills and he also realizes that hope is the spirit that made him do it.
After this, Red begins to hope too and develops an optimist attitude. Red says that 'Rehabilitated' is a made up word that does not mean anything. However with Andy, Red embraces his guilt and atones for it, and achieves redemption. However, for two parole hearings, Red doesn’t confess his guilt. Hence he fails. In the last hearing he tells what he really thinks of rehabilitation as a concept and admits his guilt, saying that he regrets it. In the novel too, Red says that given the chance he will not do it again. He says that he has enough killings on his mind to last a lifetime. Hence he achieves redemption and undergoes a change of personality due to Andy. In the end he is happy and tries to adapt to the outside world.
"There must be a con like me in every prison in America"
"Let me tell you something about hope my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It has no use on the inside. And you better get used to that."
"Brooks ain't no bug. He is just institutionalised. The man's been here 50 years. 50 years ! This is all he knows. In here he is an important man, an educated man. Outside he is nothing. Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn't get a library card if he tried. You believe whatever you want to, but I am telling you these walls are funny. First you hate them, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes it gets so you depend on them. That's institutionalised."
"They send you in here for life. That's exactly what they take. Part that counts anyway."
"Every man has his breaking point."
"I don't think I could make it on the outside Andy. I have been in here most of my life. I am an institutional man now. Like Brooks was."
"In here I am the guy who can get things for you, but outside, all you need is the yellow pages. Hell I wouldn't even know where to begin. Pacific ocean, shit ! About scare me to death something that big."
"Some things are best left unsaid"
"I don't think you ought to be doing this to yourself Andy, these are shitty pipe dreams."
"Andy: I understand you are a man who knows how to get things. Red: I have been known to locate certain things from time to time."
"I have had some long nights in the stir. Alone in the dark with nothing but your thoughts, time can draw out like a blade. That was the longest night of my life."
"Those who knew him (Andy) best talk about him often. I swear the stuff he pulled.... Sometimes it makes me sad though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And once they do fly away the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, though the nest you live in is much more drab and empty now that they are gone."