Forrest Gump Summary

Winston Groom

Forrest Gump

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Forrest Gump Summary

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Forrest Gump is a 1986 magical realism novel by Winston Groom. Narrated by the title character, a southern man with a kind nature and an unspecified mental disability (although his savant-like skills in some areas have led many readers and analysts to diagnose the character with Autism), the book takes place in the latter half of the 20th century as the character’s life brings him into contact with many key moments in American history. Touching on the Vietnam War and the space race, the book deals with themes such as kindness in the face of adversity, determination, and ultimately, the idea that life is unpredictable and will take you where it wants you to go, so there is no real point in worrying about it.

Narrated by Forrest (who is named after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest) throughout, the story begins in Mobile, Alabama, Forrest’s childhood home. When the time comes for him to enter school, he is diagnosed as intellectually disabled and few in the school hold out much hope for him to succeed. His mother fights doggedly for him to be given a chance. Although Forrest struggles to keep up, he perseveres, and while in school he meets Jenny Curran. They walk home from school together and become close friends. Jenny will wind up becoming one of the most important characters in Forrest’s story.

By the time he reaches high school, Forrest is unusually tall and muscular, making him a star on the high school football team. Despite this, he struggles in school. Miss Henderson, a kind teacher who Forrest develops an infatuation with, tutors him. He continues to struggle with tests, although he starts to enjoy reading thanks to Miss Henderson’s inspiration. He becomes particularly fond of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. His success on the football team allows him to make the All-State Team, and gives him the opportunity to meet legendary college football coach Bear Bryant.

After high school, Forrest decides to look into joining the army, but after taking the test at the recruitment center, he is told he is temporarily deferred. He goes to college, and there he meets Jenny Curran again. She introduces him to popular culture, the two of them going to see movies including Bonnie and Clyde. They form a folk band together in the student union, covering songs by famous artists at the time including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. During this time, Forrest and Jenny become a couple, and Forrest has sex for the first time.

However, Forrest flunks out of the University of Alabama after one semester, “book learning” never being his strength. By this point, the Vietnam War is in full swing, and Forrest is drafted to fight in Asia. While there, he befriends a fellow soldier, Bubba. The two look after each other in the jungle, while Bubba shares with Forrest his ambitions and life on a shrimping boat back home. Forrest makes it home from Vietnam a hero, while Bubba doesn’t make it back at all. While in the Army infirmary recovering from minor wounds, Forrest gains the acquaintance of Lieutenant Dan, an officer who lost his legs in combat and is now embittered.

When Forrest returns home from Vietnam, he and Jenny meet up again and become lovers once more, but their lives soon take them in different directions. Forrest’s life becomes a series of adventures, as coincidence and his unique skills give him opportunities he never would have expected.  He becomes a ping-pong champion in China, and saves Chairman Mao from drowning. He’s even sent into space by NASA at one point, befriending an ape named Sue. However, upon their re-entry they crash in Papua New Guinea and Forrest and Sue wind up as the hostages of a cannibal tribe for four years. He also has brief careers as a chess champion, a stuntman in Hollywood, and a professional wrestler going by the name “The Dunce”.

Eventually, Forrest’s journeys take him back to Alabama, where he finds out that Jenny has a son. He asks her, and it turns out that her son is their son. Forrest is a father, and he happily settles back into his life down south. The childhood sweethearts reunite, and Forrest starts a shrimp business to honor his late friend Bubba. The novel ends with Forrest sitting with his son at the bus stop as the boy heads off to school.

Forrest Gump is the most popular and critically acclaimed novel of Winston Groom, who has written six additional novels but is most prolific as a historian. Groom has written thirteen nonfiction books primarily focusing on the American South, the Civil War, and American Military History. He also wrote a sequel to Forrest Gump, Gump and Co. which focuses on Forrest’s future careers and his relationship with his son as the story enters the 1980s. Forrest Gump is best known for the 1994 movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks and directed by Robert Zemeckis, which was one of the top-grossing films of all time at the time and won six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor. Although the movie was significantly different from the book in both Forrest’s characterization and the events, both the book and movie are considered American classics.