Social Issues / The Social Imagination Of Forrest Gump

The Social Imagination Of Forrest Gump

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Autor:  anton  29 September 2010
Tags:  Social,  Imagination,  Forrest
Words: 1683   |   Pages: 7
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The Sociological Imagination of Forrest Gump


The Sociological Imagination Concept As Illustrated by the Movie, Forrest Gump

What is sociological imagination? Our textbook describes sociological imagination as the ability to see our private experiences, personal difficulties, and achievements as, in part, a reflection of the structural arrangements of society and the times in which we live. The movie entitled Forrest Gump is a great example of sociological imagination. In this paper, I will cite examples from the movie and tell how they correlate with sociological imagination. Sociological imagination allows us examine the events of our lives and see how they intersect with the wider context of history and tradition of the society in which we live. (Hughes/Kroehler, The Core, p. 7)

One event in the movie that really stands out to me as a good example of sociological imagination is Forrest’s stay at the Watergate Hotel. While recovering from a wound received in the Vietnam War, Forrest discovered and developed an outstanding talent for playing table tennis. Due to his exceptional table tennis skills, Forrest was called to Washington, D.C., and recognized as the “Player of the Year.” He went to the White House to receive this award. As President Nixon presented the award to him, he asked where Forrest was staying. Forrest commented, in his very innocent way, that the hotel was not very nice or well kept. Nixon apparently thought Forrest deserved much better accommodations and told Forrest he would arrange for a better place. In the next scene of the movie, Forrest is on the phone with hotel security and is looking across the way into another wing of the hotel. Forrest suggests to the man on the phone that the hotel needs to send a maintenance person “to the room across the way.” He explains that there are some men with flashlights in that room, and he (Forrest) thinks that they are trying to locate a fuse box. In actuality, instead of locating a fuse box, the scene he described was the infamous break-in at the Watergate Hotel. Had Forrest never been shot in the Vietnam War, a major occurrence in society during Forrest’s lifetime, Forrest would never have started playing table tennis nor received the prestigious award from President Nixon. The War was the event in society that shaped Forrest’s personal life in many ways, but, in this instance, the occurrence that placed him at the Watergate Hotel at the time of the historical break-in., thus providing the path for his personal life and society to intersect.

Another example of sociological imagination was Forrest’s opportunity to attend college at the University of Alabama. At a time in society when handicapped individuals such as Forrest, who had to wear braces in order to walk, were treated disrespectfully, taunted, and bullied. Due to the attitudes that existed in society toward handicapped persons, Forrest learned to ‘run,’ as his friend Jenny told him to do, anytime he was being bullied or harassed by cruel classmates. When he was in high school, he was chased by a group of bullies. They pulled up in their truck and were throwing rocks and beer bottles at him. Jenny, as usual, yelled to Forrest to run. As Forrest began running, his braces fell off his legs; and Forrest took a course right through the practice field of the Greenbow High School football team’s practice. Coaches from the University of Alabama were there on a scouting trip and seeing what talent for running Forrest had, gave him a scholarship to play football at the University. The attitudes of society at the time toward a handicapped person actually coincided with Forrest’s opportunity to attend college on a scholarship.

During his time at the University of Alabama another happening in society intersected with an event in Forrest’s personal life. The time Forrest attended the University of Alabama was the same time that a Federal court decided to de-segregate the college. In the movie you can see Forrest in the background while Governor George Wallace was standing at the entrance trying to stop the black students from coming to school there. One of the black students dropped her notebook on the sidewalk and didn’t notice that she had done so. Forrest jumps through the crowd, picks up her notebook without noticing the tension or significance of the moment, and returns it to the young woman. Because of Forrest’s personal strife of always having to run from bullies in Greenbow, he was able to attend the U of A. Forrest innocently participated in one of our Nation’s most significant moments in history. His simple, personal act of kindness, intersected with the struggle of society to de-segregate the schools. Once again, the attitude of society towards handicapped persons landed Forrest at the University of Alabama and in the middle of de-segregation, a major historical episode of our society. Because society was very racist in its behavior at this time, Forrest’s kindness and caring for people of any race, shows a sharp contrast to his personal life and behavior and the ways of society at the time.

As referenced at the beginning of the paper, Forrest’s participation in the Vietnam War is the most significant example of sociological imagination or social web as C. Wright Mills sometimes called it. What were the happenings in Forrest’s personal life that placed him in the midst of a major societal event, war? After graduating from high school, Forrest was approached by an Army recruiter giving him some literature on the Army. Forrest liked what the recruiter told him, so he joined the Army. During that period of his life, the United States was already at war in Vietnam. While in boot camp, Forrest meets his “best good friend,” Bubba. Bubba knew everything there was to know about catching shrimp. He told Forrest that when he gets out of the Army he is going to buy him a shrimpin’ boat, and Bubba wanted Forrest to be his first mate. Forrest and Bubba get shipped off to Vietnam and meet Lt. Dan Taylor, their new commanding officer. While on a mission, Forrest’s unit is ambushed by the V.C. Remembering that Jenny had told him if his safety was threatened, he should run as fast as he could away from the fighting, he did just that. He then realized that Bubba was no longer with him; so he runs back to find him. In the process of searching for Bubba, Forrest finds most of the men in his unit injured, and he helps them to safety later earning him a medal of honor. Forrest does find Bubba who is on the verge of death. Bubba didn’t make it out of Vietnam, and Forrest was shot in the buttocks. During Forrest’s recovery, he befriends his, now paraplegic, former commander, Lt. Dan. During their recuperation, Forrest tells Lt. Dan that he plans to become a shrimp boat operator because it is what he had promised Bubba he would do when they were out of the Army. Lt. Dan told Forrest that if he ever became a shrimp boat captain, he would be his first mate. Much to Lt. Dan’s surprise, Forrest did become a shrimp boat captain; and Lt. Dan became his first mate. They didn’t have much luck in the beginning, but after their boat was the only one to survive a hurricane, they dominated the market. The hurricane is an example of something that happens to a community in society that alters the course of an individual’s life—as it did Forrest and Lt. Dan’s success in the shrimping business. They, in fact, eventually became millionaires due to these intersecting events—another example of sociological imagination.

When Forrest’s mother becomes ill and eventually dies, Forrest decides to return home to live, leaving the management of the ‘shrimpin’ business to Lt. Dan. Lt. Dan, through wise management, continues to increase the success and worth of the business. The flourishing economy that usually follows a war is an example of an occurrence in society that influences Forrest’s personal life and success. Lt. Dan also invested money from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. into, what Forrest called a fruit company, Apple Computers, exponentially compounding their fortune. Here again, we see the concept of sociological imagination at work. The Vietnam War throws together Bubba, Forrest, and Lt. Dan together. Ultimately, their lives, which become entwined through the societal event of war, result in unique business successes in their personal lives.

The movie, Forrest Gump, contains numerous examples of sociological imagination. Almost every historical event depicted in the movie was in some way intertwined in an aspect of Forrest Gump’s personal life. The Vietnam War was probably the most significant of these historical events as it places Forrest in a position to make two friendships, Bubba and Lt. Dan, who were instrumental in his motivation and future financial successes in personal life. Other happenings in society such as economic conditions after a war, the attitudes of people toward handicapped when Forrest was growing up, racism, special treatment for talented athletes, and many others are only a few examples of historical events that were woven with the personal life of Forrest and his friends. I have cited in my paper just a few of the many examples of the concept of sociological imagination depicted in this movie. As one reviews this movie, one becomes cognizant of the many happenings in society that influence and shape Forrest’s, Bubba’s, and Lt. Dan’s lives. Before studying the concept of sociological imagination in sociology class, I never thought about the effect of the events taking place in society intersecting with the characters’ lives. Now, I realize that sociological imagination is the underlying theme of this movie.

Bibliography: Hughes/Kroehler, The Core

Forrest Gump, The Movie

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