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Social Theories and Concepts in Forrest Gump Essay (Movie Review)


“Forrest Gump” is a movie that narrates the story of a man from the time he is a child up to the time he is a grown up working in a shrimp boat. The movie presents the audience with a chronological sequence of events that begin from 1960s to date. Therefore, the movie has several sociological ties with this period and the main character’s life.

The main character in the movie is Forrest Gump. The movie focuses on Gump’s experiences with government, racism, poverty, mass media, and politics among other things. The film’s unfolding events are revealed through Gump’s first person narration. The film’s main themes include child abuse, racism, poverty, gender roles, culture, and family violence. This essay explores some of the themes and characters in “Forrest Gump” and how they relate to social psychology.

One of the most prominent social theories that can be related to this film is symbolic interactionism. The main argument behind this theoretical concept is that the actions of people can only be well understood through meaningful communication.

The main character in this movie goes through a hard time in his formative years. He faces discrimination from both teachers and students in his first school. This discrimination is centered on the fact that Gump has low IQ and suffers from a disability, conditions that make him misunderstood by the rest of the community.

The fact that he cannot express himself to his detractors makes the situation worse for Gump. The only time there is an attempt to initiate direct communication on Gump’s behalf is when his mother confronts the school principal and insists that there is nothing that makes Gump unfit to attend Greenbow County Central School. According to symbolic interactionism theory, only direct communication makes people’s actions understandable.

When Gump grows up the discrimination against him subsides because he can now be able to communicate with those who misunderstood him earlier. In the movie, it is clear that the torment and isolation that Forrest Gump had experienced as a child reduces as he grows older. Moreover, the only way Gump is able to make a solid and sincere friend in Jenny is by being able to communicate with her directly.

According to role theory, our behavior as human beings is determined by our own expectations and those of other people in the society. This theory is both exemplified and contradicted in “Forrest Gump”. As a child, other people do not expect Forrest Gump to achieve much.

However, Gump is able to focus on his own expectations and those of the American society. In the end, Gump is an accomplished athlete, military man, spiritual leader, and entrepreneur. However, Gump contradicts several expectations from his own society by decrying racism and rising above discrimination and isolation. The role theory also asserts that people spend a considerable amount of their lifetime being part of groups.

Jenny spends most of her time as part of the ‘hippie’ movement. According to the movie, Jenny is also a member of an illegal organization known as the Black Panther Party. Moreover, role theory specifies that people always assume different roles and occupy various positions in these groups. Gump is involved in the activities of various groups and organizations where he assumes different roles. For instance, he assumes the leadership of his military group and he is eventually granted a medal of honor.

The social constructionism concept holds that individuals and groups form their own reality. This concept explores the dynamics of institutions and actions without necessarily analyzing their cause and effect. The reality that is formed by the film’s main character falls under this concept. In one scene, Gump and his friend Jenny are being chased by bullies. Suddenly, the braces in Gump’s legs fall off and this is when he realizes he is better off without the braces.

Before this occurrence, Gump’s reality was that he could not perform well without the braces. However, this reality is challenged by the actual reality. The same concept applies to Gump’s relationship with Jenny. Gump believes that their love is eternal but this reality keeps being challenged by several other realities including Jenny’s drug abuse and emotional imbalance. According to social constructionism theorists, socially constructed notions are not always true.

For instance, the union between Jenny and Gump is a reality that only exists during certain periods. The same case applies to Gump’s friend Dan who is convinced that Gump erred by saving his life. In the beginning, Dan is convinced that it would have been better if he had died in the war front. However, later on in the movie, another reality occurs to him and he thanks Gump for saving his life.

Another social psychological notion that is paraded in “Forrest Gump” is deviance. According to social psychology, deviance is a behavior that contradicts the accepted social norms. In this movie, deviance can be exemplified through the actions of various characters. For instance, Jenny’s involvement in the hippie movement and her subsequent drug abuse can be interpreted as deviant behaviors. Social psychology scholars explain the source of deviance using several theories.

In Jenny’s case, her deviant behavior would best be explained using strain theory. This means that Jenny picked up her deviance because of her social environment. Unlike Gump, Jenny came from a poor and abusive background. However, she was still expected to achieve the same goals as other kids from wealthy backgrounds. The strain involved in achieving her goals might have caused her to rebel.

The self-concept is also well explored in this film. Self-concept is the result of self process. It is through self-process that individuals are able to identify themselves. The narrator in this movie uses first person narration and is able to reveal several self-concepts. For instance, in the beginning of the movie he is shown narrating his life to strangers who are seated in a park bench.

In this narration, he arrives at various conclusions about his identity. In essence, this narration offers a ‘snap-shot’ of Forrest Gump. The effectiveness of Gump’s narration is aided by the fact that human beings can be able to talk about themselves as they would about an inanimate object such as a chair. This is according to self-concept. In addition, it is through this concept that Gump is able to delve into his self-identity and conduct self-evaluations.

Although “Forrest Gump” was supposed to be a film about the life of one man, the movie managed to delve into various social theories and concepts. By exploring the film’s plot and characters, one is able to unearth several social theories and concepts. Some of the theories contained in this film aid in character and theme development. The film’s maker is also able to present wholesome characters by borrowing on several social concepts.

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IvyPanda. (2019, February 6). Social Theories and Concepts in Forrest Gump. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-theories-and-concepts-in-forrest-gump/

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"Social Theories and Concepts in Forrest Gump." IvyPanda, 6 Feb. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/social-theories-and-concepts-in-forrest-gump/.

1. IvyPanda. "Social Theories and Concepts in Forrest Gump." February 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-theories-and-concepts-in-forrest-gump/.


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IvyPanda. "Social Theories and Concepts in Forrest Gump." February 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-theories-and-concepts-in-forrest-gump/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Social Theories and Concepts in Forrest Gump." February 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/social-theories-and-concepts-in-forrest-gump/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Social Theories and Concepts in Forrest Gump'. 6 February.

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