The American Dream in "Forrest Gump"

Pre-University Paper, 2006

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0




1. The actor Tom Hanks

2. General overview of the movie’s gist
2.1 Tom Hanks and his personification of Forrest Gump
2.2 The five main characters

3. The character Forrest Gump: an idiot or simply an unexpected genius?

4. The contrast between Forrest Gump and Jenny Curran

5. General definition of the “American Dream“
5.1 Historical background and the present day situation

6. Connection between the film and the basic idea of the “American Dream“

7. The Vietnam War – a destruction of the “American Dream“

8. Forrest Gump and some key features of American history

9. Representation of the “American Dream“ in special scenes
9.1 Praying for shrimps and Gump’s donation to Bubba’s mother
9.2 Running across America
9.3 Forrest’s life fulfillment when finally starting a family

10. Conclusion

11. Bibliography


The original reason for choosing this topic in particular was in fact, the main idea of the American Dream, the movie primarily deals with. So, once more I was able to get in touch with the deep routed imagination and values which basically make up American society.

One year ago, when I finished the Foreign Language School in Regensburg, I was really fascinated by having heard so much about, for example, lifestyle, religion and above all cultural details on the second largest continent of the world.

Sometimes people think, living that unlimited American way of life would be the satisfaction of being on earth. At first glance, it might look like this, but it is not always true, especially if you have the chance to delve deeper inside and then you realize the United States of America is not just 50 sparkling stars on our planet, but the country is also a place where you have to fight for your life, for justice and acknowledgement.

Before I start describing Forrest Gump and the way he sees everyone all around him, I have to say that I tried to highlight this work with a short interview with the actor Tom Hanks. Unfortunately, I noticed writing a letter to him which he would have had to answer, would have been too uncertain and furthermore it most probably would have taken too much time. Nevertheless, I did my very best to create a short interesting, expressive dissertation.

1. The actor Tom Hanks

Thomas Jeffrey Hanks was born in Concord, California on the 9th July 1956. Together with his two brothers and his sister, he grew up in a broken family because at a young age his parents Janet Turner and Amos Hanks got divorced. This means, little Tom often had a stepfather or a stepmother and moved houses. Therefore Hanks attended different schools where he had to get used to the fact of always being the unpopular and shy “new boy”. Also in former times as a child, Tom was keen and willing to achieve his aims. That’s why he sometimes got small roles in schoolplays, which made him very happy.

After he finished his career as a student, he decided to go to New York in order to find a job. At the same time the future actor met his first wife Samantha with whom he has got two nice children, Colin and Elizabeth. Sadly however, this marriage did not last forever and so the couple seperated from each other in the year 1985. In 2002, Samantha died as a result of cancer.

Some time later, after leaving the mother of his children, Hanks, who is considered as being one of the best and friendliest actors in America, got married to his second wife, namely the actress Rita Wilson. With her he has got two further kids called Chester and Truman Theodore.

For a long time, Tom Hanks was the funny guy in several TV series, comedies and more or less unknown movies. However, this image changed suddenly after he was offered to play in two films, which were destined to be very important for his further career.

Firstly, he played a young man, suffering from Aids in “Philadelphia” and secondly he played one of the most famous characters in movie history, “Forrest Gump”. From that moment on, Hanks could strengthen his reputation as a serious actor. Above all, for taking part in those two afore-mentioned movies, his success was crowned by two Oscar Awards in the category as “Best actor in a leading role”. Getting two Oscars in the same category, was a performance that had previously only been topped by Spencer Tracy.

Beside his brother Jim, who acted as Tom’s running double in “Forrest Gump”, his daughter Elizabeth also got a little role, a young school girl at the beginning of the movie.

Finally, it is interesting to say that Tom Hanks is even distantly related to one of the former presidents of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Their common ancestors were Sarah Hanks and William Hanks, the great great great-grandparents of Mr. Lincoln.

(cf. ;

2. General overview of the movie’s gist

As I mentionned, one of Mr. Hank’s most succesful movies was “Forrest Gump”. A story based on Winston Groom’s novel of the same name. In the year 1994 director Robert Zemeckis adapted this book for the screen, which was a great decision as could be seen shortly afterwards.

If you have not seen the film yourself, you might think it is totally dull and boring because most of the time, Forrest is sitting on a bench, waiting for the next bus, telling the story of his life to everyone who comes along. That is all the movie is about. However this kind of speciality, the mixture between sitting somewhere in present-day life and then, the flashbacks of his past life, are the secrets which keep the viewer mesmerized.

Already as a child, Forrest is regarded as being an idiot. He differs from the other kids and everyone in the streets stare at him. His childhood is not as easy as those of his classmates, later on. As his father died due to a work accident (cf. Groom, W., 1994, p.3), he was brought up by his tough mother, who owns a little boarding house in Greenbow, Alabama. Time and time again, the boy becomes a victim of the same aged children. With braces on his legs and his below-average IQ of 75, he is a total outsider. Although, this situation turns around after his first bus ride to school. There, Forrest meets his probably most special friend, Jenny Curran. And this is the beginning of a neverending friendship between both kids.

From that moment on, Forrest’s life becomes different. He goes through so many different stages of American history, like meeting several presidents, taking part in the Vietnam War or becoming a national idol who is able to represent the country as a whole by himself. In the course of time he finds more and more friends or rather admirers. A story, a lot of people only can dream of.

And of course, just like many American films made in Hollywood, “Forrest Gump” ends within a so-called happy end. Maybe, it is not quite the happy end that people are normally used to because Forrest loses again some of those people he sincerely loved during his life but all in all, at the very end he has got a reason to be satisfied with what he has managed to achieve.


2.1 Tom Hanks and his personification of Forrest Gump

Although it may sound hard to say that the character Forrest Gump simply was no hero or a popular smart little schoolboy who fascinated his classmates, it is true. Indeed, he was the stupid, delicate kid that was not at all able to defend himself. This might have happened because he grew up without having a father and perhaps that is why he had to learn by himself how to deal with the challenges of life.

Also later on, when Tom Hanks took over the movie’s role of the adult Forrest, who still got labelled as being nuts, he played his role on the one hand with so much enthusiasm and on the other hand, he was full of sensitivity. However, this could come from the fact that Hanks partly had those experiences, too. He knew which feelings the character must have deep in his soul and more importantly how to express them properly. Additionally, all the parallels between the character and its embodying person made Tom Hanks become one of the best possible cast candidates for that role.

2.2 The five main characters

Besides Forrest Gump, there are four further characters in the movie. These are, Mrs. Gump – his mother, Jenny Curran, later on his war veteran Bubba and Lieutenant Dan Taylor.

If you have to describe Forrest Gump himself, you can say no matter which IQ this often so-called idiot has got, he is definitly a lovely young man who is predominantely guided by his heart. Each person in the movie that shares a closer relation to him would confirm such a statement. Maybe it is true and he is surely a bit dumb, but for him it turns out to be a kind of advantage. He most often only notices the good part in everything and this allows him to get further ahead and in fact he does not worry about what could be wrong or right, that is why Forrest just does what comes to his mind.

His attitude towards his life and the world around him is a result of his mother. Even as a young boy, Mrs. Gump, the strong, hard working woman went with him to the doctor in order to straighten him up. She loves her son more than anything else on earth. Therefore, it was the most natural thing in the world for her, to fight for her son and help him to develop his own personality and above all to make him have a better life. Mrs. Gump’s message is “ Life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.“ Somehow it is certainly possible to influence your own life, but in the end you just have to see what happens. Anyway, without her good advice, at the end of the movie Forrest would not have been that mature man that he comes across as being.

Furthermore, he spends all his time hanging around together with his first best childhood friend, Jenny Curran. The day Jenny saw that alleged moron, Forrest, in the bus going to school, she felt some kind of sympathy for him as both kids laid eyes on each other. Possibly because she was also one of those children who came from a broken home. Unlike her friend, she has got no place where she has the chance to find love and affection, to feel safe and warm. Although, she lives with her sister and her dad on a small farm, Jenny does not know where she belongs and in addition to that the two girls are being sexually abused by their own father. As a result, she is somehow very restless and always looking for freedom and peace throughout her life.

Moreover, hitherto Forrest Gump’s induction day in the army, Jenny was his only best friend, which then changed. On the bus going to the army, Gump meets the Afro-American man, Bubba. The black soldier comes from Bayou la Batre and as Jenny had done it a long time before, he invites Forrest to sit next to him on the bus as well. Immediately, he tells him everything he needs to know about shrimping, a real tradition in his family. Bubba turns out to be generous and warmhearted because he suggests starting a shrimping business together with Forrest when they get out of the army. He was convinced of carrying out this idea one day, but unfortunately, that never happened and so after Bubba died in the war of Vietnam, Forrest was destined to fulfill that dream.

Last but not least, Lieutenant Dan becomes one of Forrest’s closest friends after getting out of the army. You could say he was the born soldiers’ superior because somehow he really lived the American Dream. He represents the picture of this strong guy in the army who is willing to fight against all enemies and would even die for his nation and its people. Exactly this would have happened, if Forrest Gump the saviour had not kept him alive.

The only problem from that moment on was that Lieutenant Dan was handicapped because he was wounded and lost his legs in action, but nevertheless he carries on living.

(cf. audio commentary, Forrest Gump, 1994)

3. The character Forrest Gump - an idiot or simply an unexpected genius?

Mrs. Gump was always used to say “stupid is as stupid does.” A sentence that threads its way throughout the movie. But who are the stupid characters in this film?

Forrest has such an image of being nuts because in his childhood and youth, he often has problems with people all around him. However, actually the real troublemakers are the other ones who do not know in which way they need to treat the boy. For them, having a low IQ and a slow kind of thinking is put on a level with being somehow retarded. Therefore, more often, Forrest has to prove what he is truly made of. And he is lucky and gets a decisive chance, for instance, later in the army. There Gump shows that he is an unique, distinctive soldier that only does everything his instructor tells him to do. Hence, his superiors are totally amazed by such a great sense of obedience. In the final analysis, it means nothing more than Forrest needing clearly described tasks and of course new challenges.

4. The contrast between Forrest Gump and Jenny Curran

If you did not know any better, you could think Forrest and Jenny are like brother and sister. Both kids are connected by a magic kind of friendship. In the course of time, this friendship develops more and more and becomes in the end a real close relationship for life – they even get married. Nevertheless, it was not possible for the two of them to spend their whole life together in the same place.

Forrest is in some way deeply rooted to his native soil and always gets stuck in actions that only happen by chance. He never wants to leave his house in Greenbow, Alabama, in the South of America. A piece on earth where he was born, where he grew up and where he later brings up his son, also called Forrest, after Jenny dies as a result of an incurable virus – very probably Aids (cf. audio commentary, Forrest Gump, 1994).

On account of Jenny’s terrible childhood, she is constantly searching for fulfillment of her life. Even as a little girl, she prays to become a bird, so that she could fly miles away from her hometown. That is in fact what she is about, she is indeed like a bird who does a lot of travelling around the world. After school, she has got dreams of being a well-known and famous folk singer like Joan Baez, her big idol. A phenomenon which is understandable becauce she needs the confirmation and recognition of making people happy by singing and performing on the stage. Something she never got at home. While looking for the content of her life, Jenny furthermore works as a stripper or a waitress in a pub. Her supposedly darkest time of life is the time when she tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge or a balcony, when she gets involved in the radical hippie movement of the ‘60s or when she is a member of the Black Panther party, an anti-war community which fought for the rights of the blacks. Apart from these situations, Jenny unfortunately also comes in contact with cocaine and for a short period of time, her single motto is sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

All the same, while going through this excessive lifestyle, she never forgets Forrest because Jenny returns from time to time, like a little bird. Anyway, this describes that the young woman represents in some way the unfulfillment of American society whereas Forrest represents the counterpart of the folks. Although, they are two pretty different characters as such they still feel attracted to each other and in the end it works out.

(cf. audio commentary, Forrest Gump, 1994;

5. General definition of the “ American Dream“

As I already mentioned a few times before, almost each type of person in the movie “Forrest Gump” is searching for the destiny and content in his or her life and this kind of behaviour is simply the essential secret of the “American Dream”.

In order to paraphrase the “American Dream” in some words you could describe it as the possibility of every living creature to climb up the career ladder only by hard work. It is said, working all day long is a virtue while lazyness is a big sin. If you follow that order you also will have the chance to get from rags to riches. The “American Dream” is a term firstly coined in the early 20th century by the writer James Truslow Adams in his book “The Epic of America”.

Moreover, the very basic idea of that expression emerges as well in the Declaration of Independence of the USA, which insists, among other points, on the pursuit of happiness, too.


5.1 Historical background and the present day situation

Originally the “American Dream“ derives from the Pilgrim Fathers, who brought in the term when they came on the Mayflower to America long time ago. The only reason for coming to that continent was because after separating from the Church of England they were searching for religious freedom, self-fulfillment and the strong desire to live in accordance with the will of God. Therefore the success of working and being busy was not only regarded as a natural result, but as a blessing of their Holy God.

But the “American Dream” of course still exists. It has become a strong component of American society and certainly it also will continue over the next coming generations. Nevertheless, there are some problems because the present social security system is based on that original thought and that in turn means, unlike here in Germany, every person has to look after themselves’. And this is exactly a point which is logically often critizised. So, if you have bad luck and come from a family with a financially lower background, it will be even harder to achieve this “American Dream”. However, the term “American Dream” is not only comprised of materialistic elements, but also simply the feeling of being free, as it is the case when you are driving along the famous Route 66.


6. Connection between the film and the basic idea of the “ American Dream“

The well-known, popular American way of life and complete independence in a country of unlimited possibilities is a specific feature which certainly attracts numerous tourists and immigrants from all over the world. Maybe there is a deeply rooted sleeping wish or a basic instict to create it, in everyone of us. Normally, in contrast to Forrest Gump, people consciously strive for success. Anyway, if you take this movie’s character as an example, you notice that you do not need to be incredibly intelligent or highly talented, of course this could be undoubtedly an advantage, but becoming popular is also connected with a huge amount of luck, which could also be regarded as the power of God.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


The American Dream in "Forrest Gump"
Fachoberschule und Berufsoberschule Schwandorf
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ISBN (eBook)
Seminararbeit, Abiturklasse, BOS, Berufsoberschule, American Dream, Amerikanischer Traum, The American Dream, Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks, movie, Film, filmic adaption, Literatur, Literature, Oscar Award, Vietnam War, American History, 60er Jahre, Bubba Gump
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Julia Schart (Author), 2006, The American Dream in "Forrest Gump", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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