“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”*
I went into reading the novel thinking it would basically be a screenplay for the film, but I was surprised at how different the plots were, for better or for worse.
For those of you who weren’t old enough to appreciate Tom Hanks‘s multi-Academy Award winning rendition of Forrest Gump, the plot revolves around an idiot savant (think Rain Man) that unwittingly becomes the center of many historical moments in American history. In the book, Forrest’s illustrious career spans from being an all-star college football player to a Medal of Honor recipient in the Vietnam War, an astronaut, actor, professional chess player, millionaire, shrimp company CEO, pro wrestler, candidate for US senator, and probably a few more occupational changes somewhere in between.
The book was written the way Forrest talks, with a southern drawl and many mispronounced words. It lent a bit of immersiveness to the storyline. I found myself reading as though Forrest was sitting next to me on a park bench telling me his life story. It may be a hindrance to some (I had to sound some phrases twice to grasp what Forrest was saying) and nothing more than a gimmick to others, but I found it to be a nice touch by author Winston Groom.
Groom’s use for making Gump an idiot was revealed in Chapter 10, where Forrest sat in on a Harvard University class entitled “Role of the Idiot in World Literature”. The professor of the class went on to say that great writers would allow the fool to make a fool of himself so that the reader could be used reveal the greater meaning of the foolishness. One example was when Forrest was asked his opinion of the Vietnam War. Forrest’s reply to everyone from Chairman Mao (who Forrest saves from drowning) to reporters during Forrest’s Medal of Honor tour, was that “it’s a bunch of shit”. Forrest gave an honest and foolish sounding opinion that contradicted the American leadership that wanted him to rally supporters for the war. In another example, Forrest ran for senator under the campaign slogan “I need to pee”. His campaign manager called it brilliant, that the people needed to excrete the toxic corruption from their government.
My opinion? If I had to choose between the movie and the book, this is one of the rare occasions where I would choose the movie. The film Forrest Gump was so wonderful because it interwove the plot into historical events and pop culture movements (Forrest made the first smiley face!) in a believable way. In the book version, Forrest’s adventures were a bit too fantastic and much less believable.
(*Note: The novel Forrest Gump by Winston Groom does not actually contain that memorable line made famous in the film adaptation.)