Forrest Gump’s character in the movie is quite interesting as well as complex providing a unique contrast to the typical behavioural characteristics of an individual in his early adulthood. The film shows how he develops and grows starting with his childhood to the time where he adopts his role as a father. His journey is quite an interesting one and different from most of us. By showing the contrast between typical life events of an individual and of those whose development is slower than normal, the film tells us how our expectations regarding cognitive capacities may not be that important as we tend to think.
The film beautifully portrays how people who are seen or judged as “slow” by the society can very well lead a successful life. In physical terms, Forrest is quite strong and healthy and athletically prodigious. In his childhood, he wore leg braces because of which he was bullied by his peers. And one day, when he was trying to flee away from his bullies, his braces broke apart and he learnt that he can run extremely fast. Despite his below average intelligence, he got scholarship in the University of Alabama because of his athletic prowess.
So, his physical strength acted as a kind of buffer for him by helping him keep up with adversity of life (as physical strength is one of the supporting factors in aiding the achievement of development tasks). Thus, he was able to attend school and college especially because of his mother who provided him with unconditional support throughout. She never made him feel that he is any different from others, always encouraged him and accepted him completely.
For instance, she made sure that Forrest goes to the finest school and receives same education as other kids, This reflects the importance of nurture aspect in the development of one’s personality, thought and social behaviour. Although, biologically he had a low IQ, but he did really well in life probably because of strength and encouragement he got from his mother and very importantly the acceptance and support he go from his peer Jenny in his childhood. Whereas, Jenny on the other hand, didn’t receive such kind of positive environmental influence in her childhood.
She was sexually abused as a child by her father and that had lasting effects on her personality and behaviour. Forrest experienced emotions like falling in love (with Jenny), grief (when his mother died) like most people of his age would experience. However, some of his emotions were not as it would be normally expected from his peers like his tolerance towards insults. He didn’t seem to be bothered about people calling him with multiple names. Instead of getting offended by being frequently referred to as slow and stupid, he calmly responds with “Stupid is as stupid does”.
If we look at social sphere, Forrest actively participated in the football team in college (got named as All-American football player) and also in the United States Army. Also, he made friends like Jenny whom he met in his childhood), Lieutenant Dan and Bubba (whom he met in the army). However his concept of friendship was a little different as compared to people of his age. For instance, he kept it very simple i. e. people were either his friends or they were not; he didn’t engage in analysing what people mean actually and what in actual they think of him.
He also showed extreme loyalty and trust in his friendships. For instance, he never questioned Jenny even though she deserted him a couple of times and he cared for her in the same way throughout, keeping her happiness above anything else. Secondly, when their platoon was ambushed in Vietnam he didn’t care about his life and was solely concerned with finding Bubba and saving him. Till he reached Bubba, he encountered four other army men on his way and he carried each of them to the safer place.
This also reflects the stage 6 of Kohlberg’s morality development (Universal Ethical Principle) i. e. every human’ life is important and that he would save anyone from dying and not only when the person is his friend. Another important thing to note in his social life is that he doesn’t engage in activities typical of young adulthood like drinking, smoking and party/clubbing which on one hand hampers his social circle to some extent, but on other hand it also protects him from risks involved in drinking, smoking or unprotected sex thus maintaining his good health.
However, if we look at social life of Jenny, she frequently engaged in drinking and partying and engaging with multiple men; then she also got addicted to heroin. She didn’t have a clear idea in her mind about where she was going. And so, she got involved in hippie cross-cultural movement as well. From the Freudian perspective it can be seen that traumatic experiences in one’s childhood can have lasting effects on an individual’s growth and personality.
Jenny couldn’t successfully resolve what happened in her childhood and thus felt lost. Moreover, unlike Forrest she didn’t have a mother who could guide her or help her distinguish between right and wrong. There is a known concept of social clock which means that there is certain time for specific events to occur, and this usually depends on one’s gender and socio-economic status. Although, Forrest’s development is relatively slower than normal, he succeeds in matching up with the social clock.
He joins college at 18, gets himself in the army in his early-twenties, starts a business, he is really successful at that business and makes enough money to retire, has a child in his early-thirties, gets married in his early to mid -thirties, then spends rest of his time taking care of his son. Although there are some variations to what is expected, he follows it fairly closely. The fact that he was more or less able to accomplish developmental tasks of each stage of life reflects the importance of supporting factors in his life like his physical strength, supportive mother and Jenny.
In cognitive terms, Forrest lags behind as compared to people of his age as his mental processing is relatively slow. Forrest shows characteristics of mild mental retardation (DSMIV 317) as his IQ is 76 shown in the scene when the school principal tells Forrest’s mother that how he cannot get admission in a “normal” school because he has below average intelligence. He has trouble reading during his childhood and also later when he is trying to teach his child. One indicator of this is his lack of thinking about his future.
He falls into activities like college and the Army and doesn’t have to worry about them at all. If seen from the perspective of Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory, Forrest would fall in stage 3 i. e. concrete operational where an individual can reason logically about concrete events and can classify objects into sets and show skills of spatial reasoning but lacks in abstract thinking. This is the reason why Forrest could not fully grasp the concept of love and thus couldn’t successfully overcome the intimacy vs. isolation stage in Eriksons’s psychosexual theory explained
later. Also he has trouble understanding that why would Lieutenant Dan want to die in Vietnam war and complained about Forrest saving his life. Nor he is able to understand that Jenny is on drugs and was sexually abused and therefore treats him and other males in the same way. During this time of life, many people experience a change in thinking as they reach what is known as “Post formal stage” of thinking. This is an extension of Piaget’s theory and incorporates the combination of emotion and logic in adult thinking. Forrest does not reach this level and is basically struck.
He doesn’t realize that most ideas are provisional rather than permanent. In his mind, once he believes something or find something out, he believes it to be true. There is no room for adjustment or change over time. An example of this is when his mother gives him advice or tells him something, he immediately incorporates it into his working knowledge rather than process it and compare it to other things that he already knows. One aspect where he shows this is in his friendships. In his mind a friend is a friend and that’s it.
He’s loyal to his friends no matter what and betrayal cannot even cross his mind. This is apparent in his moral reasoning as well. His cognitive flexibility is lacking and it shows in his behavior. Another difference between Forrest and his peers is that for many this is a time where they move from “problem solving” to “problem finding. ” Forrest doesn’t make this change and instead stays at the stage where there’s no need to think about problems until they arise. Once a problem strikes, that is the time to find a solution. Forrest also show characteristic features of Asperger’s Disorder (DSM-IV 299.
80) which include marked impairments in the use multiple nonverbal behaviours such as eye to eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction, restrictive repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities. This causes impairments in social or occupational functioning. Therefore he experiences some trouble in making friends and he develops deep connections with very few people. Probably because of his nervousness, he is unable to socially interact with Jenny and has trouble making eye contact in other non-verbal communication skills.
Forrest was very comfortable in military primarily because of its strict routine and thus excelled in the army as many Asperger’s patients do. Morally, Forrest lies at the stage six of Kohlberg’s Post-Conventional level of morality (Universal Ethical Principle) wherein individual disregards social contracts and does what is morally right even it is frowned upon or illegal. Thus, Forrest saves Lieutenant Dan in the war time even when he orders him not to. After Bubba’s death, Forrest gives Bubba’s share of money in the shrimping business to his mother.
Forrest constantly put other people above him and does the right thing no matter what. Even after being shot in the buttocks, he tried saving all the army men he could by carrying each one of them, one by one to the safer area and not just only his friend. Similar to his problems in cognitive sphere, Forrest is also behind psychosocially. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that people will make sure that they can fulfill certain basic needs before they proceed onto more complicated needs. Forrest has an understanding of his basic needs such as food and water and knows that he has to fulfill these.
The next level of needs is love and friendships. While Forrest attempts to make friends and form relationships, he doesn’t seem to be pursuing a romantic relationship in the same way as his peers. He has known Jenny since childhood and basically accepts that he is in love with her and despite the fact that she does not share the same feelings through most of the film, he remains loyal to her. He believes in a sort of naive view of love but at the same time is trying to fulfill this need for intimacy like any of his peers would.
The next level is success and esteem, and it doesn’t seem that this is too important for Forrest. He is successful in everything that he does, but it isn’t a strong goal of his, it just seems to happen. Erikson’s psychosexual stage 4 talks about the conflict called Industry vs. Isolation (adolescence) wherein an individual is required to learn the basic skills needed for independent functioning. Even though, Forrest wore leg braces and couldn’t walk properly because of which he was also bullied, he didn’t develop a sense of inferiority (i. e.
sense of helplessness when you feel existing skills are too low for everyday tasks) probably because he had a supporting and an encouraging mother who helped him adjust and lead a normal life despite his weakness. And, finally he was able to break apart his leg braces to find that he is an extremely fast runner which helped him in developing a sense of competence and also boosted his identity formation. In his young adulthood, he also experience a sense of isolation (stage 5 in Erikson’s theory) as he could not talk it out properly with Jenny about his love for her and Jenny kept on
deserting him as she didn’t have a stable life (being a part of hippie counterculture movement) and turned him down when he tried to bring it up and propose her. By looking at Erikson’s stage 7 called generativity vs. stagnation, it can be seen that even though Forrest doesn’t have an IQ of a “normal” man, he proves himself as a productive member of society. He became a great football and ping-pong player, a war hero and a highly successful businessman. He saved lives of four army men during the war including Lieutenant Dan and was himself shot in the buttocks and thus received Medal of Honor from the president.
After discovering his potential for ping pong, he began playing for the U. S. Army team. He also helped in exposing Watergate scandal and inspired Lennon’s song “Imagine”. After Jenny’s death, he takes complete care of their son. Thus, he didn’t worry about being stagnant. Even though he already achieved great success as the captain of a shrimp boat he chose to mow fields because he just liked doing it. The stage of early adulthood (20 to 40 years) is a time of making decisions. During this time an individual must choose a career and possibly a college. They also must choose a mate and start to worry about their future.
For many, they take this time to think about many possibilities and make the best possible decision after a lot of consideration. Forrest does not treat these decisions in this way and ends up doing things based on coincidences. For example, he goes to college because the coach recruits him. He enters the Army because the recruiter comes up to him after graduation. He becomes famous after running across the country just because he had a whim to start running. He even starts the shrimp boat because he made a promise to Bubba in the Army when Bubba suggested it.
The majority of adults take time and consideration in these decisions, but Forrest tends to fall into these things and then doesn’t question them. He is very accepting of whatever comes his way and doesn’t like to question his current situation or wonder about the future. When the Army recruiter comes up to Forrest and his mother after graduation he asks, “Have you given any thought to your future? ,” while handing him a brochure. As the man walks away Forrest responds, “Thought? ” This shows his lack of consideration to future plans.
During their time in college, Forrest goes to visit Jenny and when she tells him about her dream of becoming “somebody,” he doesn’t understand and can’t grasp what she’s talking about. Jenny’s poor decision making is also reflected in the movie. She gets randomly involved with multiple men, got addicted to heroin, had trouble distinguishing between right and wrong probably because of her traumatic childhood experiences and that she didn’t have anyone to guide her. Therefore, her health suffers too and in the end she dies of unspecified illness (probably AIDS according to me).
One major issue that is discussed in the movie that is often presented to young adults is the transition to parenting. When Forrest discovers that he is a parent, he goes through many changes and is affected by this new development. Some common advantages to becoming a parent is getting more responsibility, becoming more accepted as an adult, a connection to another person and the comfort that comes with that. In this case, Forrest does undergo a stronger sense of responsibility now that he has a child to care for, especially since Jenny passed away. It is also a way to comfort the loss of Jenny, and even the loss of the other
important people in his life (mother, Bubba), now that he has someone to share his life with and care for. He still has to deal with the fact that he’s considered slow, but it’s helpful that now he can prove in yet another way that he’s capable. Common disadvantages of parenthood include financial and marital strain, too much responsibility and uncertainty about parental abilities. While Forrest doesn’t experience all of these, he does wonder whether he will be able to care for his son properly and whether his son will be negatively affected by the fact that his father is slow.
However, he will be surely able to overcome this and will be able to function as a highly efficient parent and the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. Often, parents need to refrain from irresponsible activities, like partying hard and staying out late, since Forrest never really participated in these activities, no change would be required. Forrest Gump is a simple man that has lived a full life. It is amazing the level at which he functions given his Mild Mental Retardation and Asperger’s syndrome. Forrest was raised in a positive environment that allowed him to believe he could do whatever he wants.
However, Forrest had trouble with romantic relationships and creating more than a couple close friendships. Forrest top notch morality and his lack of knowledge on social barriers has allowed him to do whatever he pleases in life. Forrest has not been a setback in his lack of Piaget development, nor his stage six morality. In fact, Forrest Gump was awarded the Medal of Honor for his morality during his time in the Vietnam war. There is no reason for concern for Forrest as a father. While he has the IQ of a mildly mentally retarded person, he is capable of understanding the importance of knowledge and instilling that in his son.
By watching this movie, it is easy to see that Forrest Gump is not developing at a normal rate and that he is not the same as his peers. However, by taking a closer look it can be seen that despite his developmental downfalls, he was able to achieve a successful life by many standards. Therefore the lesson that I take from the movie is that it is important to realize that the norms that we believe to be ideal may not be so and perhaps our idea of what is normal and ideal should be broadened to include people who develop at all rates.