Could I please get feedback/feedforward on this practice essay done for 2023 practice exam?
What grade might it get and why?
How could it be further improved?
Q 3. Analyse how at least one symbol was used to convey thought-provoking ideas.
In Frank Darabont’s 1994 classic film The Shawshank Redemption he uses the symbol of Jake, the crow, to represent the reality and effects of imprisonment and institutionalisation. Jake’s life closely mirrors that of his ‘owner’, Brooks Hatlen. The bird has been taken from his natural environment in the outside world, raised to be totally dependent on Brooks for food, care and shelter. He is then released back to the outside world just as Brooks receives his parole. Will he make it on the outside? Can anyone survive when they leave the only world they have really known?
We first see Jake in the dining room scene when Brooks asks Andy if he’s “gonna eat that”, gesturing to the maggot that Andy has extracted from his prison food. Brooks then opens his pocket and gently feeds it to the fledgling held there. He says he found Jake after he fell out of his nest and he’s going “to look after him until he’s old enough to fly”. The irony is that Jake remains with Brooks until well after he is able to fly. This is because Jake has become a companion for Brooks, a way to share affection and care in an otherwise cold and unnatural environment.
We know that it is unnatural for birds to be confined and unable to fly freely. This also underlines the unnatural nature of the prison environment. The men are kept indoors for much of their time. Brooks has a little more freedom than most as he is an old-timer, a ‘trusty’ who runs the prison library and is allowed to deliver books to men in their cells. Jake is always near Brooks, and is not allowed to fly free. It is clear that he remains dependent on Brooks for food, just as Brooks is dependent upon the prison mess hall for his own.
When Brooks is paroled, he is forced out into a world that is not familiar to him. Before he leaves Shawshank, he releases Jake as well. Poignantly, he tells Jake he has to go, and that he “can’t take care of him no more.” He releases Jake into the light through the barred window, telling him “You go on now. You’re free.” He watches anxiously to see how Jake goes, but soon has to leave the cage of the prison himself. We see him step carefully through the now-open barred gate. The outside world is big and fast - Brooks is nearly hit by passing cars. This suggests that the world is a harsh and unfamiliar environment. He says that after work he goes to the park to feed the birds, “hoping that Jake might show up. But he never does”. This makes us wonder whether Jake has been able to survive away from his keeper and provider.
Jake’s existence is also linked to bird imagery used elsewhere in the film. For example, in voiceover narration, Red describes the almost magical sound of music in the opera scene in terms of flight and birds: “…those voices soared….It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage…” The women’s voices rise freely into the air; the men’s upturned faces show that they are drinking in the unfamiliar, exhilarating sound. It makes the men feel free. Also, when Red reflects on Andy’s escape, he likens Andy to an exotic bird - one that is not meant to be confined: “some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are too bright….when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up, does rejoice.” This makes us think about the unnatural nature of confinement in small hard spaces. Just as it is cruel to lock birds in a cage, it is cruel to confine men to a small space.
Jake’s existence linked with Brooks’ experience makes us reflect on the destructive effects of long term imprisonment. As Red says: “they send you here for life, and that’s just what they take. The part that counts anyway.” Red also explains the effect of imprisonment: “These walls are kinda funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on 'em. That’s ‘institutionalised’." We see that Brooks has become totally dependent on the prison - he has been confined for nearly fifty years - and he decides “not to stay” in the unfamiliar outside world, choosing instead to commit suicide. This makes us think about the detrimental effects of long-term imprisonment on human beings. There is a line between exacting punishment for wrongdoing and totally destroying a person’s independence and ability to be reintegrated into society. We should think carefully about the detrimental effects of institutionalisation on human beings.