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My New Book!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

January 6, 2021: Hope-full Texts: The Shawshank Redemption

[If there’s one thing I think we all need as we begin this new year, it’s hope. So this week, I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of cultural works which offer stories and images of that vital emotion—share the texts or voices which give you hope for a hope-full crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On what we can learn about hope from three key quotes in a film focused on that theme (SPOILERS, if you’re that one person who hasn’t seen Shawshank).

1)      Hope is a dangerous thing, my friend, it can kill a man”: The film ends up disagreeing with this sentiment, as of course would I. But I think it’s important to recognize that not every story ends as happily as do Andy’s and Red’s, and that there are indeed times and ways when hope can be so naïve as to be counter-productive if not downright destructive. I’ve tried to learn a lot, for example, from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ critical pessimism, including his belief that the struggle is the point, even (perhaps especially) if we know it is doomed to fail.

2)      “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”: But of course, we can’t ever know the future with certainty—can’t know that things will work out well, but likewise can’t know that they are doomed to fail. That doesn’t mean that our hope can necessarily push things in the right direction (a great deal is and always will be outside of our control, after all); but it does mean that if we can’t know in any case, we might as well (it seems to me) let hope play a role in our perspectives and our actions.

3)      “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope”: Red’s (and the film’s) moving final lines capture many different sides and iterations of hope: practical, personal, idealized. But I think that final two-word sentence gets at the heart of it: hope’s ultimate value isn’t about any one outcome (although it’s certainly valuable to have and work toward them), but rather about the emotion itself. Hope can’t be naïve, but if it’s critical and thoughtful, it is indeed one of the very best of things.

Next hope-full text tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Texts or voices which help you find hope?

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