The first in a new series of essays from guest authors with something to say.
I watched Forrest Gump as a sophomore in high school and it was one of the first films I watched that made me view film as an art. The way Forrest navigates the world around him according to his raw understanding of it, the vulnerability of human emotion, the endless historical allusions - all aspects that captivated me. And I’ll just tell you, I hated Jenny Curran as much as the next person; she was a druggie, a promiscuous slut, she abandoned Forrest time and time again and never appreciated him. What a bitch, right? No. and I’ll tell you why.
I rewatched Forrest Gump a few months back and rather than viewing Jenny as an element of Forrest’s story, I watched Jenny’s own story.
Reason #1 Jenny is not a bad person: she was sexually assaulted from the age of 6, approximately.
I think we can all imagine the type of trauma and issues – especially sexuality issues – that result from being raped by your father as a prepubescent child. Victims of sexual assault have more difficulty examining their sexuality and the role they are to play in a patriarchial society. Being assaulted by the man who is supposed to take the greatest care of you teaches you a lesson about men in general. Your sexuality no longer becomes your own, or rather, you will try your hardest to reclaim it, by whatever means that comfort you. Girls will sometimes blame themselves for the assault and most importantly - they believe they deserve it. Personally, I think that’s reason enough to defend and explain her life choices, but I’ll continue anyway.
Jenny’s life began to go downhill after she was kicked out of her all girl’s college for posing in a Playboy magazine wearing her school sweater – a potential example of an attempt to reclaim her sexuality. Jenny knows is that she still wants to be a famous singer, even if that means playing guitar at a gentleman’s club – another possible example.
After her show at the gentleman’s club, when Forrest pummeled the men who grabbed at Jenny, Jenny said “so what? A lot of people try to grab me,” – again, her body was not her own. Jenny then took a step toward the rail of the bridge they were walking on. She reminded Forrest of a previous scene, when in the midst of her abuse, the two knelt and prayed that God turn Jenny into a bird so she could fly far away. She asked Forrest, “do you think I could fly off this bridge?” In response, the urgent sense of worry immediately became apparent on Forrest’s face.
This is the first time Jenny abandons Forrest, she tells him to stay away from her. She loves Forrest, that much is evident, and she believes it is her responsibility to protect such a pure man from her toxic self.
So why would Jenny ignore Forrest when he tells her “he shouldn’t be hitting you, Jenny” after witnessing Jenny’s boyfriend strike her across the face at a Black Panther Party meeting? Because she believed she deserved it. Jenny did not value herself, she did not value her body and at times she did not value her life. Heartbreaking as that is, people find it most heartbreaking because Forrest did value her, possibly enough for the both of them. But those same people are missing the greater sadness of a human being who has only known pain.
Finally, Jenny returns to Greenbow, Alabama, apparently healed from her rock bottom, and gives Forrest what he describes as the happiest time in his life. They take a walk together one day, Forrest tells Jenny all about his adventures; Vietnam, ping-pong, shrimping, and all the others we’ve heard up until this point. Now, a case could be made that I am over-emotional, but in the scene when Jenny comes across her childhood home, I lose it. She walks slowly down the drive, and immediately begins to throw rocks, angrily whimpering things that sound like “how could you”. Before collapsing onto the ground and sobbing, overwhelmed by her damage. Does that sound like a healed woman to you?
Perhaps that’s why Jenny left Forrest in the early morning. Perhaps Jenny still felt she had work to do on herself and that she did not yet deserve Forrest, still. I can’t say for sure.
All of this finally changed for Jenny when she had her child. A child is the best way to make a person settle down, but more than that, Forrest Jr. taught Jenny what love was and that she deserved it as much as anyone else.
Jenny’s demons haunted her. They haunted her and provoked her to self-sabotage because to her, that’s the life she deserved. Jenny was a product of her environment, and severe early-childhood trauma doesn’t go away as quickly as the clip in the movie does. Jenny loved Forrest and tried her hardest not to hurt him, she never understood that by doing so she was depriving both of them of the happiness they each deserved.
So, no, Jenny was not a bitch or an evil villain, she was a girl with an unfair start who, alone, figured out her life. It may have taken longer than the audience would have preferred but Jenny found her life on her own, she survived on her own, she succeeded on her own, a less than trivial feat.
Editor's Note: Dalya Abu-Shaweesh, clearly of foreign heritage, is an Arab-American currently simultaneously studying at Cleveland State University and working towards earning a commercial pilot license at the Royal Jordanian Air Academy. Raised in an Arab-Muslim household amidst the conflicting culture of modern America, striving to find her own lifestyle, she hopes to finish her autobiography of her own struggle. She has said that ideas are meant to be shared and we’ll never know the full story of our human experience until we hear from everyone.