Symbols in 'Forrest Gump': Forrest & the Feather and Jenny & the Bird
Typically, when people see a white feather tumbling through the breeze, they associate it with loss, or a symbol of the presence of a spiritual figure. But, 'Forrest Gump' being one of my favourite movies of all time, whenever I see a white feather slicing through the air, it reminds me of Forrest.
Forrest & the Feather:
The white feather is a recurring symbol that appears frequently throughout 'Forrest Gump'. It is first seen in the opening credits, floating around in the breeze and landing at Forrest's feet as he patiently waits at the famous bus stop, where he begins telling the tale of his life to coming and going passengers. He picks up this feather, then places it into the seam of his beloved 'Curious George' book. The feather has often been described as a symbol of destiny, but what does destiny mean to Forrest?
America established destiny as a key part of their national consciousness. 19th Century politics were dominated by the idea of 'manifest destiny' - that each and every individual's future was preordained, or inevitable. But Forrest Gump toys with this idea. He seems to make it to the top through sheer will and ingenuity by simply following the lessons that his mama taught him throughout his life -
"I happen to believe you make your own destiny"
Just as a feather flies in whatever direction the wind takes it, Forrest goes through life in the same way -
"Now, you wouldn't believe me if I told you - but I could run like the wind blows"
He just took whatever opportunities came his way with no expectation, from joining the Army, to starting his own shrimp business; he just goes with the flow. Yet, Forrest demonstrates that, to gain that luxury of rising to the top and finding true, pure happiness whilst doing so, you need to have an open-mind, and you need to accept that a lot of these opportunities that life throws at us are through pure chance -
"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get"
It's worth remembering that Forrest doesn't feel like a failure when something doesn't go the ideal way, he just sticks his chin up and keeps on runnin'!
Tom Hanks, who won and Academy Award for his portrayal of 'Forrest Gump', stated that:
"Our destiny is only defined by how we deal with the chance elements to our life, and that's kind of the embodiment of the feather as it comes in. Here is this thing that can land anywhere, and it lands at your feet. It has theological implications that are really huge."
Yet, despite this, there was a certain thing that Forrest does believe he was destined for - Jenny.
Jenny was a part of Forrest, and he certainly thought it was his destiny to keep her safe, and to love and cherish her -
"You're my girl"
No matter what path he was going down through the course of his life, he always seemed to have these coincidental reunions with his childhood sweetheart. Jenny was the only true part of Forrest Gump that remained a constant. She was the one true figure of familiarity to him. He knew that his inevitable ending was Jenny. His only destiny.
Forrest's unsurety of his views on destiny is what he explains to the love of his life at her grave at the end of the movie, saying -
"I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze. But, I think, maybe it's both."
Jenny & the Bird:
Jenny, being the spiritual person she is, believes that her spirit animal is a bird. Perhaps this is why she's so tempted to jump from high places - because she believes she could just spread her arms open like wings, and fly. But, the only reason she doesn't jump, is Forrest. She knows he needs her.
Birds are considered as spiritual animals, religiously renowned for delivering spiritual messages, such as the dove of peace in Noah's Ark. Jenny possesses the spiritual-like messenger qualities of a bird, even joining the Anti-Vietnam War Hippie Movement with the aim of delivering messages to the public and government through peace protests. As well as this, birds also represent a sense of freedom. Many characters from other movies also refer to birds when speaking of the feeling of freedom, whether it is shouting "I'm flying, Jack!" whilst open armed at the front of a boat ('Titanic' - 1997), or demanding "Say I'm a Bird" to a loved up Ryan Gosling, whilst spread-winged at the beach ('The Notebook', - 2004):
Like a bird gliding through a breeze, Jenny glides through life, twisting and turning in whichever direction she pleases. Similar to Forrest, she just goes wherever the wind blew her. Yet, the only difference between Forrest and Jenny is: EXPECTATION.
Forrest had no expectations of what he wanted to do with his life - he just did what he did with no consideration of how it may profit him. Jenny, opposingly, had a lot of expectations of her life, expectations of which if she does not achieve, she would feel failed. For instance, in a scene where Jenny takes Forrest to her room in her college, she asks him:
"Who are you gonna be?"
To which he replies:
"Aren't I gonna be me?"
This displays Forrest's lack of expectation of his future, whereas Jenny goes on to say how she wants to become a famous folk singer, having sky-high expectations for her life which will be tricky to achieve.
Later, when Forrest see's her singing, naked but covered up with her guitar in a dodgy club, chock-a-block full of drunken men, Forrest states -
"Her dream had come true. She was a folk singer."
He didn't realise that this is not the dream she had, but for him, it was good enough.
Unlike Forrest, Jenny didn't have a healthy nor happy upbringing. She was traumatised by an abusive father. We see her as a child praying in the cornfields, with Forrest by her side, while hiding from her drunken father -
"Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far far away from here."
Jenny would've done anything to be free from her father. She even longed to become one of the birds that she saw everyday in the fields, who flew freely through the breeze, with not a worry nor concern in the world.
Due to Jenny constantly setting harsh expectations, as well as having a spiritual and constricted outlook upon life, throughout the majority of the film we see her having a lack of value of herself, which leads her to not feel deserving of Forrest's unconditional love. She didn't love herself, so she thought no one else would be capable of loving her. It may be that Jenny's traumatic childhood had caused her to believe that her destiny was to get into troublesome situations, as that is the lessons she learnt from her father. This is perhaps why she found herself doing hardcore drugs, getting abuse from boyfriends and rejecting any comfort or care that came her way.
When Jenny says "You don't wanna marry me." after Forrest proposes to her, she reveals all these things to Forrest, as well as to the audience. She didn't feel deserving of the love of such a kind-hearted, genuine man like Forrest, even though deep down, she loved him, with all her heart.
Yet, something inside her changes when Forrest replies -
"I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is"
By saying this, Forrest teaches her that you do not need to be a perfect being to be capable or loving, or being loved. He also implies that, sometimes, the most important lessons in life do not need to be taught.
This changes Jenny.
Only when Jenny begins valuing herself, and believing that she is deserving of a bright future, does she allow herself and Forrest's love to truly be free, fly and flourish. She begins the process of loving herself when she knows she's only got a few more months to live after being diagnosed with AIDS. She comes to appreciate the beautiful things in her life, such as Forrest, and their small son, and finally doesn't take them nor their love for granted again.
Jenny died a free woman. She gained her freedom after fighting hard for it. Behind, she left a husband whom she loved, and who loved her unconditionally, as well as a son who continues to learn from the life lessons of his parent's pasts.
As Forrest walks away from the grave of the love of his life, he stops and turns to see a flock or chirping birds, flying freely in the sky, and over the grave of Jenny. Forrest watches these birds in recollection, knowing that Jenny's primary dream had come true -
She was as free as a bird.
Like a bird can't live without feathers, Jenny couldn't live without Forrest. And, though Forrest didn't know if his Mama was right, that we all make our own destiny, or whether it was Lieutenant Dan who was right, that our destiny is preordained, he lived his life by both morals.
But, it was Jenny who taught him the most important lessons in life. She was the one who told him to run when he was ever in danger. It was she who told him to be safe rather than to be brave. And most importantly, she was the one who showed him what love is.
Forrest and Jenny were like birds of a feather, or, in the words of Forrest Gump -