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Forrest Gump: Book Summary, Historical References & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Film vs Book
  • 1:00 Historical References
  • 1:52 Analysis
  • 2:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
This article summarizes Winston Groom's 1986 novel, Forrest Gump, as well as analyzes themes found within the work. Read the article and take the quiz!

Film vs Book

While millions are familiar with the film version of Forrest Gump, fewer are aware that the inspiration for that work came from a novel written in 1986 by Winston Groom. While the main story of a mentally challenged man from Alabama journeying through a tumultuous time of American history is the same, the journey itself changes greatly. For starters, Forrest gets to go into space, as it turns out that he's no intellectual lightweight. Instead, Forrest possesses great intellect, but simply can't express it. In fact, he's brought into space as a backup for the backup computer.

Space wasn't the only way that our Forrest got high. That's right, in the novel Forrest smokes marijuana. However, he's also captured by South American cannibals and held for four years. Finally, and most shockingly for many who read the book is that Forrest was far from being innocent in his twenties with Jenny. In fact, Jenny herself is shocked by his lovemaking abilities.

Historical References

Forrest's life through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s provides a window to American history at a time when the country was losing its innocence. Again, the book starts off typical enough, with an almost romanticized image of growing up and young adulthood in post-war Alabama. But even that has shades of trouble lurking at its borders. As he continues through his service in war, Forrest sees the horrors of battle up front and personally.

Finally, he loses Jenny, the love of his life, to this terrifying new spectre of AIDS. Remember, Forrest Gump was written in 1986, just as AIDS was entering the public mindset. In having Jenny die from that disease, Groom is saying that we must all pay for the mistakes of our past, and that the terrifying payment of those mistakes comes at a price that is both unknown and terrifying.

Analysis

At its core, Forrest Gump offers a truism about the American Dream in that it's open to all individuals despite the odds stacked against them. In the book, there's no doubt that Forrest is extremely capable, but he can't execute due to his low IQ. That said, he still plays college football at the University of Alabama, serves his country, starts a business, and gets the girl.

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