Emergence from Hell: The Parallel of Malcolm X and The Shawshank Redemption


Nigus Getahun, Editor-in-Chief

When I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the first thing that came to my mind was the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Although one a movie and the other a book, both were able to express an important narrative in a truly profound manner. 

Malcolm X,  a drug addict, woman abuser, burglar, and hustler, was able to redefine his life while in prison and become one of the great orators of the twentieth century and an impactful man in the civil rights movement. He didn’t have the best childhood as his father was killed by the KKK, and his mother was sent to an asylum when he was only a young boy. He later got involved in street life; his crimes eventually caught up to him and he was sentenced to 10 years on charges related to burglary. 

The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufrense, a man who was falsely convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The film follows Dufrense’s life in prison and tells the story of a man who does not let his unjust situation curse him. Rather, he embraces what has happened to him, and tries to make changes within himself and immediate surroundings. In prison, he was constantly met with setbacks; but he never lost hope and faith. He continued conducting himself the right way and moving forward in the face of his life’s derailment. 

Malcolm X and the fictitious Andy Dufrense both embody the stoic narrative that we don’t have much control over what happens to us, but we do control our reaction to the situation. Both characters were able to react to their situation in a way that was virtuous. Malcolm X could have certainly spent his time contemplating his next crime when he left prison, but he chose a different reaction: he decided to educate himself, to read at every free minute he got, and leave prison with a goal of contributing to the world. 

The autobiography and the movie are both conceptualizations of what it means to be a human being in the face of tragedy. In another favorite book of mine, Man’s Search for Meaning, the author, Victor Frankl writes “Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action.” This sentiment rings true in both Malcolm X’s story and Andy Dufrense’s. Both stories show a man who wrestled with fate, a man who managed to retain his human dignity, and who formed a radical new destiny throughout numerous trying circumstances.  

These stories outline the oldest truth that we know of, the truth that all the major religions have told us: life is suffering, life is hard. Although that seems pessimistic on the surface, the deeper part is the realization that we are stronger, that we can transcend this suffering and find meaning despite the difficult circumstances we’re thrown in. Perhaps, It’s through acknowledging our fate and suffering, and moving forward in the face of adversity that our eyes open up to the limitless strength of our soul.