( United States: In Winston Groom's Forrest Gump and Robert Zemeckis's film Forrest Gump: 1986; 1994)
James M. O'Brien
America in the 1990s remains haunted by the 1960s. Though the two narratives of Forrest Gump in the novel ( 1986) and on film ( 1994) provide a snapshot survey of America's incidents and institutions in the 1960s and 1970s, the essential backdrop for the narratives is the dark, unresolved presence of Vietnam and pervasive racism; that is, their unresolved shadowing of the American psyche. In the novel, Vietnam is just one more example of America's pointless exercises in power and technology, like college football and NASA, with social institutions indifferent, if not oblivious, to the individuals they process and exploit. In the film, America's racial divisions are foregrounded, as are the plight of the Vietnam veteran in the postwar United States and that of the lost, doomed, countercultural flower child Jenny. Gump, the holy innocent fool, offers a nonjudgmental acceptance and single-minded fidelity that transform the lives of Lieutenant Dan and Jenny and realize, postmortem, the dreams of Bubba the shrimp man.
There are, of course, two Gumps, the ubiquitous cinema Gump, crafted by director Robert Zemeckis, screenwriter Eric Roth, and actor Tom Hanks, and the ur-Gump of Winston Groom's 1986 novel. Groom's Gump as innocent fool, awash in guileless purity, unquestioning trust, and quixotic unpredictability, has a clear and acknowledged literary genealogy, including Faulkner's Benji, Prince Myshkin of The Idiot, Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, and especially Lennie from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Although Groom does not specifically allude to it, Gump's progress through American history is very much like