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Healing the South through Stupid Forrest Gump is one of the most iconic films ever created. It seeks to portray the tumultuous events of three decades through the unbiased eyes of an intellectually disabled man by the name of Forrest, Forrest Gump.1 The film explores the South more or less through the views and actions of its main character. Ultimately, due to the immense differences between the movie and novel, one must consider the two defining quotes Life is like a box of chocolates, ya never know what ya gonna get2 or Being an idiot aint no box of chocolates.3 These quotes summarize the different viewpoints expressed by Forrests character in the two works. Forrest observes each event in his life for what it is, nothing more or nothing less. He attempts to provide observations on what he knows and understands around himself. However, his actions present his character as a force of healing for the South. He is able to present the electrically charged events for what they were, and without political opinion. This allows the movie to serve as a healing mechanism for the South by allowing people to remember the events as they occurred not the politics behind them. Thus, Forrest Gump is able to transcend racial, gender, and social barriers to provide a peaceful commemoration of the events that took place. Forrest Gump illustrates and describes the South through many different facets with great historical significance. Elements of the Lost Cause and Cavalier Myth are present in the film as well as elements of the New South Creed. In addition, the South is portrayed through the Southern characteristics as described by W.J. Cash including individualistic, hedonistic, protestant, romantic, violent, intelligence (or lack thereof), prideful, and above all the guiding

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Forrest Gump. 141 mins. Paramount Pictures. 1994, DVD. Op. Cite. Forrest Gump. 3 Winston Groom, Forrest Gump.(New York: Vintage Books, 2012) p. 1

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sense of honor.4 The film uses the characters in the movie to explore these characteristics and apply them to Southern people. The main character Forrest Gump embodies what can be seen as the ideal Southern Gentleman. He displays chivalry that may be unmatched by anyone other than Robert E. Lee, which is no coincidence considering Winston Grooms deep affection for the Lost Cause and Cavalier.5 Forrest embodies the chivalry of the Old South not only by his character but through his name, as well. He is named after the Confederate Cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest.6 Forrest and his mother live in a large plantation home that has been in their family for generations which suggests their Chivalric roots and connections the Old South.7 Forrest and his mother can be seen as Cavaliers of the New South, as well. This is due to the fact that Forrests mother adapts to the times and runs a boarding house to make a living to support them.8 This can be compared to Scarlett OHara overcoming the times and running her own business in Atlanta in Gone with the Wind. Forrest displays a steel reserve in his character as he never allows the negative influences around him to bring him down. He stands above the scum of the Earth. This could be a product of his intelligence. Stupid is, as stupid does meaning that he may be incorruptible because he is oblivious to most of the negative actions around him.9 When visiting Lt. Dan in New York City, Forrest does not realize the insults that Lt. Dan is berating him with outside of the television station and does not sleep with the prostitutes because he dislikes the taste of cigarettes.10 Both of these instances could be attributed to lack of awareness of events

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W.J. Cash, Mind of the South. (New York: Vintage Books, 1960) Images of the South in Forrest Gump. Accessed 19 March 2013. 6 Op. Cit. Forrest Gump 7 Op. Cit. Forrest Gump 8 Op. Cit. Images of the South in Forrest Gump. 9 Op. Cit. Forrest Gump 10 Op. Cit. Forrest Gump

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going on around him. His lack of intelligence allows him to transcend the negative prejudices that hampered the South. Forrest also displays almost if not all of the characteristics that W.J. Cash asserts are Southern characteristics. Forrest is no doubt a hedonistic person. Throughout the film, he constantly changes professions and occupations to do whatever he finds pleasurable at that time. He spends all his time as a young child with Jenny because it makes him happy. Next, Forrest plays football at the University of Alabama. He then joins the military and serves a tour of duty in Vietnam. Following being wounded, Forrest finds his love of ping pong. He journeys to China representing the United States ping pong team. Forrest then finds pleasure in upholding his promise to Bubba to become a shrimp boat captain. Forrest agrees to cut the grass at the school in Greenbo for free. Afterwards, Forrest embarks on run across America. Finally, his last act in hedonistic ways are his marriage to Jenny and subsequent raising of Little Forrest. Forrest does all of these things out of his hedonistic ways trying to find whatever is pleasurable at that moment. He forms a true definition of hedonism with his actions. Forrest can also be considered protestant. He holds deeply held convictions about right and wrong and does not budge in his opinion on what is right and what is wrong. Has holds a deep conviction of Gods role in life as evidenced through his interaction with Lt. Dan on the subject of the existence of God. Lt. Dan has no faith and offers a counter view to Forrests opinion. The storm scene signals the power and presence of God as he seems to challenge Lt. Dans personal convictions. In typical Southern fashion, Forrest is somewhat contradictory in his application of his principles toward Jennys actions. He refuses to succumb to Lt. Dans downtrodden and demoralizing behaviors but, does not take issue or comprehend to Jennys

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whoring and drug abuse. However, one must allow the idea that Forrests intelligence could contribute as he may be unable to comprehend the nature of some of the actions taking place. Forrest also displays the romantic ideals that is an integral part of the Southern identity. Forrest bases his actions on his emotional feelings. This can help to explain his payment of Bubbas share to his family and his decision to run across America.11 Neither action was very rational but, they were based on his emotional feeling at the time. Forrest also always seems to be looking to the bright side of things. He summarizes his time in boot camp with the quote, Make your bed real neat and stand real straight and answer every question with yes, drill sergeant12. There was always somewhere to go, and something to do is another quote that illustrates Forrests romantic view of Vietnam that directly opposes the tumultuous peace movement of the 1960s and 1970s.13 Forrest also displays the defining trait of Southern honor. This is his most noticeable characteristic and is put into practice at every turn by Forrest. Forrest will do anything to protect and rescue Jenny. This is in line with the idea that a Southern Gentleman must protect his own honor by defending the honor of women even through violent means if necessary. Therefore, Forrests relationship with Jenny serves to reinforce the idea of the presence of the Cavalier and Southern Gentleman in Forrest.14 He gets into three fights to protect Jenny. Blount recalls, Saturday night the teenagers would go to the mall to race their cars. Guys would hit on my wife and Id jump their case and attack them for it.15 Violence is a key element in the honor of

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Op. Cit. Forrest Gump Op. Cit. Forrest Gump 13 Jennifer Hyland Wang, ""A Struggle of Contending Stories": Race, Gender, and Political Memory in "Forrest Gump". Cinema Journal. 39. no. 3 (2000). Accessed 19 March 2013. p. 97 14 Op. Cit. Images of the South in Forrest Gump 15 Alma Blount, Saturday Night at the Mall. Growing Up Southern. Edited by Chris Mayfield. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1979) p. 246

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Southerner. Southerners fight first to protect their honor and ask questions afterward. Forrests quick reaction to fight for Jenny reveal his fearless approach to violence. Each time he beats the other man with swift and violent action. Jenny gives the viewer two lines that summarize Forrests honor and his resorting to violence to protect her. First, she tells Forrest, You cant keep saving me the time.16 Secondly, she asks Forrest, Why you so good to me?17 To which he responds by saying, You my girl, Jenny.18 These two lines illustrate Forrests honor in both his defense of Jenny and himself. The film also uses Forrest to highlight several Southern stereotypes. For example, the fact that Forrest is a slow-talking intellectually disabled individual is a play on the stereotype of below-average intelligence that Southerners supposedly possess. Bubbas character reinforces this stereotype and the two form a tandem that represents Alabama as being slow compared to individuals from other parts of the country. When Forrest and Bubba first meet Lt. Dan, he mocks them by asking if they are twins when they answer at the same time. This can be seen as a play on the lack of intelligence that they both seem to display.19 The film also brings the culture of Southern football into the movie. The sport allows Forrest to attend and graduate college that otherwise would not have been possible minus his running ability. Which brings the viewer to the conclusion that Forrest is able to capitalize on his athletic ability to acquire a college education despite only having an I.Q. of 75. Football is an integral part of Southern culture and can be seen as a way of life as most towns in the South revolve around the local schools football team. It is interesting to note that Alabama would have won at least a share of 3 national titles
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Op. Cit. Forrest Gump Op. Cit. Forrest Gump 18 Op. Cit. Forrest Gump 19 Kevin A. Stoda, "Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump and American Culture and Memory." (Eslkevin (blog), September 28, 2011.) Accessed March 19, 2013.

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while Forrest Gump would have been present, however, Groom elected to have Alabama lose the national championship in his novel.20 This reinforces the idea that Southern culture has been built on the culture of losing. Townes states that The defeated regions leadership had many tasks to perform, but chief among them was to help the mass of southern whites see a reason for the sacrifice and struggle.21 This statement shows that the South had to find answers in its loss for it to move forward as a region. The myth of the Old South and Lost Cause were built upon the loss of the Civil War and Groom uses losing the football game to signify the beginning of Forrest as an iconic image in his novel. The Pride of the South is on full display in the movie. Forrest proudly represents Alabama and exclaims it every time he is asked where he is from. When Bubba and Forrest meet Lt. Dan, he asks them where they are from and they both respond with, Alabama!22 This intense pride of their homeland correlates to the pride that Southerners have felt throughout time. Grantham states, The Southerners strong sense of place remains distinctive.23 It exemplifies the pride with which Southern writers created the idea of the Lost Cause after the defeat of the Civil War to prop up their spirits and turn the loss into a victory. Southern orators and writers created an aura in the late 19th century to take honor and pride in the regional identity of the South.24 This is clearly identifiable in the pride that Forrest exudes regarding his home in Alabama. Forrest proudly represents himself and Jenny in every circumstance. At the Black Panther Party, Forrest does not realize that a white Southerner would have risked death at such an event by mere attendance, let alone fighting one of the members, Jennys boyfriend, after he

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Op. Cit. Groom, pg. 38 W. Stuart Townes, Enduring Legacy. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012) pg. 5 22 Op. Cit. Forrest Gump. 23 Dewey W. Grantham, The Regional Imagination. (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1979) pg. 229 24 Op. Cit. Grantham, p. 2.

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hit Jenny. Forrest takes pride in all of his possessions just as most Southerners do. He takes pride in his tennis shoes and wears the same pair for years when he had more than ample resources to buy new ones.25 The shoes signify the pride that he lives his everyday life with and the unending mere joy of simple possessions and joy in life that Forrest has. Next, the viewer must ask, why does Forrest Gump portray all of these aspects of the South? To begin, one must consider the authors views and motivation for the story. Winston Groom was born and raised in Alabama and has spent a vast majority of his years living in the Mobile area.26 Several of the events that Forrest experiences are based on Grooms own experiences. Groom grew up in a rural section of Alabama just as Forrest does. Groom attended the University of Alabama from 1961-196527, just as Forrest did. Groom served a 13 month tour of duty in Vietnam.28 Groom based his character of Forrest on a combination of his own experience, the personalities of his two best friends Jimbo and George, and the story of an intellectually challenged boy in Mobile.29 This explains the rationale behind Forrests slow Southern drawl and odd pronunciations in his Southern dialect. Groom also has referred to himself as a cavalier of the New South.30 This reinforces the images of the Old South that are present throughout the novel and movie. Groom is also a renowned historical writer which could provide reasoning behind his subtle Southern references and connections in the novel.

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Op. Cit. Forrest Gump. Biography of Winston Groom. American Program Bureau. Accessed 19 March 2013. 27 Op. Cit. Biography of Winston Groom. 28 Op. Cit. Biography of Winston Groom. 29 Winston Groom, interview by Eric Reynolds, "The Interview: Author Winston Groom," Fox 10 TV, Podcast Video, June 07, 2012, March 21, 2013, 30 Images of the South in Forrest Gump. Accessed 19 March 2013

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While Groom did write the novel and review over the movie script, there are major differences between the two. First, and most noticeably, are the changes in Forrests character. In the novel, Grooms Forrest is a mirror image of himself standing at 66 and weighing in at 240 lbs.31 However, with Tom Hanks playing the role Forrest in the film, Forrest is reduced to average size. Secondly, the Forrests character traits are different. According to Paaertero, the film emphasizes Forrests innocence and pure soul compared to the cynical and faulty novel Forrest.32 In the novel, Forrest displays many of the character flaws that are attributed to Jenny in the movie. He suffers from drug abuse and cheats on Jenny throughout the novel.33 Also, while Jenny and Forrest have a seemingly true emotional love in the film, their relationship is based more on a physical manner in the novel.34 In the novel, Forrest encounters several different adventures that are left out of the movie. To begin, Bubba is white in the novel, and he meets Forrest while they are both attending the University of Alabama.35 This is significant because the movie uses the fact that Bubba is black to show Forrests nondiscriminatory perspective. Forrest does not meet Lt. Dan until he is wounded and they have a bed next to each other in the hospital.36 In the novel it is upfront that Forrest is an idiot savant.37 He can do very complex mathematical problems, therefore he is sent into outer space on a NASA mission to serve as the backup in case the computer fails. The space trip ends in a crash in Papua New Guinea. Forrest and his two companions live for four years under the watch of a tribe of cannibals. Forrest also is an amazing harmonica player and tours with Lt. Dans Band. This is significant because in the

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Winston Groom, Forrest Gump.(New York: Vintage Books, 2012) p. 30 Neea Paatero, Building Icons: Forrest Gump's Journey from a Mediocre Novel to a Six-Oscar Movie." Accessed 19 March 2013. 33 Op. Cit. Groom p. 168 34 Op. Cit. Groom p. 94 35 Op. Cit. Groom p. 28 36 Op. Cit. Groom p. 61 37 Op. Cit. Groom p. 33

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movie Forrest serves as the stabilizing force that helps save Lt. Dan from himself. However, in the novel Lt. Dan is not as destructive upon himself and Forrests habits actually serve as a negative influence on him. Forrest and Dan try to rig a bookie by letting the word out that Forrest will lose his next wrestling match. In an attempt to double their money, Forrest convinces Dan to delay starting the shrimping business until after the fight. However, he loses the fight and all of their money.38 Forrest is a very cynical and grotesque character in the novel. Whereas, the movie seeks to promote and highlight his innocence as his defining trait. The movie aspires to preserve Forrests innocence. Forrest is aware events occurring but, he is unable to determine why they are happening and what they stand for in reality.39 The movie also inserts several important historical events that enhance the image of the movie and add to the intrigue of Forrests adventure through the social landscapes of the film. Such as Forrests trip to visit President Kennedy as an All-American football player. Also, the movie produces a picturesque family situation, in which, Forrests mother is a very supportive character who looks out for her son. The movie reaches out to the emotional nerve of its viewers. Whereas, the novel does not cater to the audience. The historical context of the film is extremely significant to the outlook of its message. Forrest experiences first-hand many of the most important events during the 1960s and 1970s. He is present for the stand at the schoolhouse door by George Wallace. He meets three Presidents, fights in Vietnam, is with the first group to visit Red China, uncovers Watergate, helps John Lennon create the lyrics for Imagine, attends a Peace Rally, and receives a Medal of Honor. Forrest experiences all spectrums of American culture ranging from the hippies to the

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Op. Cit. Groom p. 172 Walter Klinger, Forrest Gump: Themes of Tolerance and Equality. Accessed 19 March 2013.

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military life to the African American community. Thus, he presents each of these groups and activities as he sees them, nothing more nothing less. This is important because he presents an unbiased reflection on the events that affected the Nation during these times. While he is serving in Vietnam, Forrests actions and attitude reflect a positive view of the war and shed it in a more favorable light. However, the Zemeckis plays protest music in the backdrop of these scenes to observe and pay respect to the anti-war movement that was going on at the same time.40 The South suffered through a very tumultuous decade in the 1960s and Forrest should be seen as a healing force through his oblivion to what is occurring around him. To summarize the true feelings of the 1960s, Dunbar states, The cutting edge of one drill is the radical right, the other is the Negroes. It is in the South that each will cut most deeply.41 This quote explains the significance of Forrests oblivion which does not truthfully represent the turmoil of the times. During the time, Alabama was a segregated state and only after attempts from the President and the Supreme Court would the state be integrated. Forrest was present for Wallaces stand at the University of Alabama and picks up Vivian Malones book that she drops as she walks in the door. This is significant because Forrest is blind to the circumstances only acting out of his natural character. It is an attempt to show that truly good men are blind to subtle differences such as race. The fact that Forrests best friend, Bubba, is black serves as a significant statement to the power of Forrests character. Also, Forrest serves in an integrated unit that seems to have overcome their racial differences to bond together. The movie tends to downplay the struggles that units in Vietnam suffered from the wide diversity that constituted their make-up. However, Forrests character shows the viewer an individual who stands above the prejudices of the day.

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Op. Cit. Forrest Gump Leslie W. Dunbar, The Changing Mind of the South: The Exposed Nerve. The American South in the 1960s. Edited by: Avery Leiserson. (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964) pg. 21

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When Forrest returns in the jungle to save Bubba, he helps anyone that needs help no matter their race. The film uses Forrest as a character to show that the South is healing and has come a long way in a short amount of time in terms of racial relations. It is ironic but, Forrests stupidity has enabled him to overcome racial barriers and reach out to all in need. He provides an example to which Southern society can aspire to be. Someone who is above petty racial discrimination and focused on saving the good of humanity. The movie tries to use Forrest as someone who can help to ease and heal the wounds that the Civil Rights movement opened in the South. A significant symbol at the beginning of the film occurs when Forrest is being chased by the boys on bikes. Forrests leg braces are symbolic of the restricting bind that segregation had hampered the South from making social stratus. Townes states, The mythology of the Lost Cause provided the white dinosaurs of the 1950s and 1960s with a defense of segregation.42 However, when the boys try to chase him and beat him the braces break and Forrest runs and leaves them in the dust, this is symbolic of the effect of Civil Rights Legislation versus the Jim Crow laws that had held Southern Society in its grips since the turn of the century. By breaking the restraints of the mythology of the Lost Cause, the South has developed into an integral part of the United States and Zemeckis honors this growth through this scene. Later, Forrest is chased by the same boys who now drive a pick-up truck. The truck has a rebel flag on the flag serving as a memory to the backwards ways that were present during the Jim Crow Era and the horrible discrimination that accompanied that era. Forrest races away from the truck signifying the eventual rise of the South out of the ashes of the tumultuous Civil Rights movement into an age of progress and ever improving racial relations. Forrest serves as a representation of the South that overcomes obstacles throughout the movie to signify the growth of Southern society.


Op. Cit. Townes, pg. 120

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There are some critics who find controversy in the portrayal of Forrest and the times he lives in. They use Gumps lack of a political outlook to highlight an underlying anti-feminist and anti-Civil Rights argument.43 They cite Forrests 1950s style crew cut as evidence. Throughout the film Forrest has the crew cut which seemingly reminds the viewer of the prosperity of the 1950s prior to the tumultuous time in the 1960s and 1970s in which Forrest seems to stand above the negativity proudly looking straight from the 1950s.44 The fact that Jenny acquires all of Forrests faults in the movie is used to support the claim that it is anti-feminist. Jenny embodies most if not all of the negative movements and characteristics of the 1960s and 1970s.45 She is a drug addict, sleeps with countless men, and is not loyal to her true love in Forrest. Also, the critic argues that Forrest contains a racist element. The scene when Forrest repays Bubbas family his share is argued that he giving them reparations for slavery.46 The payment will make up for the years of slavery and service that their family suffered. The argument is that Forrest represents the conservatism that dominated the American landscape prior to Lyndon Johnsons Great Society reforms.47 The fact that the early 1990s was a time of conservatism is used to reinforce their opinion. However, Groom disputes these claims because he states that his sole purpose in writing Forrest Gump was to simply tell a story worth telling.48 He had no political agenda when writing it and merely sought to examine the political events in the movie and novel through the eyes of an unbiased, semi-aware individual. He wants the reader to merely observe the events and their significance in American history, not as an attack on the womens movement or racial equality.49 The fact that Groom is very adamant in his defense on these issues seem to dispel the possibility
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Op. Cit. Wang, p. 92 Op. Cit. Wang, p. 97 45 Op. Cit. Wang, p. 97 46 Op. Cit. Wang, p. 100 47 Op. Cit. Wang, p. 95 48 Op. Cit. Images of the South 49 Op. Cit. Images of the South

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of this interpretation. Robert Zemeckis did seek to use the Southern Cavalier as a captivating influence to attract viewers. However, Zemeckis uses Forrests cavalier to exorcise the demons that have given the South so much turmoil.50 For this reason, the idea of Forrest being antifeminist and racist seems very farfetched. The movie Forrest Gump portrays the South through eyes of someone just living life as it comes. Forrest has no political agenda and merely responds to lifes events as they happen. This unbiased approach provides a clear view of the South as it is and as it was. A place that is making progress from its rocky past and always moving toward a better society. Forrest Gump tries to remember the struggles for what they were. He wants the viewer to be proud of the good people in the world and to take people for what they are. Forrest may only have an I.Q. of 75 but, he accomplishes more than any single human can ever think to replicate. This speaks to the soul and spirit of the South that no matter the odds you can rise above the obstacles and achieve great things. Forrests stupidity allows him to transcend the obstacles and give hope to the South that good people can overcome any barrier.


Op. Cit. Images of the South in Forrest Gump