Lessons About Social Issues Learned from Forrest Gump and The Help

Categories: Forrest Gump

The themes of racism, gender inequality, and social influence are explored in the novel The Help written by Kathryn Stockett and the film Forrest Gump directed by Robert Zemeckis. Stockett explores the idea of social influence on a narrow-minded society through the three main protagonists Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter who take turns narrating the story. Zemeckis highlights that history is what has shaped the modern world. Both pieces are of a historical context, The Help’s context is that of the early 1960s and is set in Jackson, Mississippi and Forrest Gump is the context of the early 1980’s set in Alabama.

Both Stockett and Zemeckis use their characters and setting to convey their idea and themes.


The idea of social racism is explored via the characterisation in The Help by Stockett rotating between the three protagonists Aibileen, Minny, Skeeter, and Hilly though out the book the main protagonist narrates in first person, allowing readers to see through the characters eyes, allowing the readers to feel sympathetic with the main characters.

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In contrast to the film Forrest Gump, which Zemeckis uses Forrest who is both physically and mentally challenged but also the protagonist himself to convey his idea. In the novel Stockett uses African-American dialect English when writing from the views of Minny and Aibileen, by doing so this gives a unique voice to the characters. In contrast to the film Forrest Gump the maid the audience is shown in the scene sitting next to Forrest at the bus stop Zemeckis positions them on an equal level using a medium shot Forrest states “I bet those shoes are comfy” the camera angel switches to a up close downward shot of her shoes which look do look comfy to the audience however she replies “My feet hurt”, which indicates to the audience she still works hard long hours.

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The theme of racism is portrayed vividly in the novel when Hilly Holbrook implies that “black people should have to use different bathrooms in white homes because she believes they carry disease”, this is said as Aibileen is present. Miss Leefolt Aibileen’s boss installs a second bathroom for the 'colored help,' and when she tells Aibileen to try it out she says “I use my colored bathroom from now on. And then I go on and Clorox the white bathroom again real good”, this highlights and exemplifies to readers the paradoxical and contradictory nature of race relations at that time to readers because whites allowed black people to clean their homes and watch over their children, but are not fit to use the same bathroom.

Stockett uses the bathrooms as symbols to emphasis to readers that every day people use bathrooms however chances are that you never really think about it. Furthermore, Stockett demonstrates the fear that coloured people of that time felt to readers through Minny when she is asked to contribute to the book. Minny is excited about the idea, but she is also afraid to put herself and her family in danger by speaking out due to power that white people have over blacks especially if they became outspoken. However, on the other hand the book about the maids had made an impact on racial relationships in different ways for instance it aggravated racism. One woman fires her maid due to Hilly’s order. Due to what she had read in the book as a result in her maid being fired it meant that more equitable relationships between black and white women. This therefore led to the white woman starting to treat her maid better as she didn’t want any of her secrets to be exposed. To readers this can be seen as a step forward in relation to equality.

Zemeckis uses Forrest’s best friend Jenny in a section early in the film which depicts Forrest being bullied as he has braces on his legs along with the fact that he is perceived as not being very smart, Jenny says “Run, Forrest, Run'. The scene follows on in slow motion close up showing Forrest running and his legs braces breaking away which can be seen as a symbol to the audience as escape of an array of threats by literally running. The scene shows us how he is running away not from his problems however running as a way to get away from the obstructions and problems. The metaphor of “run, Forrest, run” is used the rest of his life Zemeckis presents this in a series of situations in which the act of running leads Forrest from disaster to triumph. Applying this scene to racism audience can see that by breaking past stereotypes and being strong can lead to success and the overcome of racism. Stockett suggest that racism was the key driving force down south and the key motivation of characters, additionally Zemeckis suggests that in time racism will get better if we choose to break away from the stigma.

Gender Inequality

Gender inequality is explored in the novel via skeeter’s mother has become concerned about her daughter not who has not gotten married even though she is twenty-three, her mother nags Skeeter to “do whatever you can to get a man”, highlighting to the audience that her mother’s mindset is ‘old fashioned’. Skeeter is invested in looking for a job that will allow for her to chase her passion of writing for an editor position at Harper & Row has not gotten back to her which tells readers this is because she is female and during those times women weren’t considered equal to men emphasising gender inequality. This is further highlighted when she realises that in the work force women get payed lower pay than men. in the local paper. Skeeter has come to a realisation that marriage will end her ambitions implying to readers men were smarter than women.

But as a result, she aims to avoid the marriage to her friends and family and tries to keep it away from people in the society knowing. remind is considered a failure until she marries, 'Even though I felt miserable, and knew that I was most likely ugly, it was the first time she had ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother's white child. All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloured’s, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice what I could believe.'. Constantine mention to her that ugliness is starting to become a mean and hurtful person. She is faced with asking herself is to believe what other people say about her or she will not be blindly bigoted against coloured people.

As a result, in her conflict she doesn’t believe that a white woman role is to get married and have kids. Telling readers that I am going to make a change in society and forge my own path and not cave into the gender norms. In a darker depth of gender inequality Zemeckis explore this in the film via Forrest’s voice-over narration when he recalls that Jenny’s father was a “lovin’ man, always kissing and hugging her and her sisters” it then cuts to the visual scene showing young Forrest arriving at Jenny’s home clearly suggesting to the audience he was a degenerate incestuous sexually abusive paedophile. As Jenny and Forrest run through the corn field away from her sexually abusive father who is looking for her Zemeckis uses dark toned music creating suspense to the audience that he may catch Jenny, Zemeckis also uses a high angle shot panning over the corn field but when Jenny falls to the ground she prays to God to “make me a bird so I can fly faraway” the camera angle becomes a close up on Jenny’s face showing a tear rolling down her cheek allowing the audience to feel sympathy for Jenny. The bird-related imagery Zemeckis uses in this scene is a dominate symbol which characterizes the character of Jenny throughout the film such as Jenny does die, her finally being laid to rest is accompanied by the sudden release of birds from a tree. Both pieces depict a different side of gender inequality, Stockett uses the more typical males are better than female’s viewpoint to readers where as Zemeckis conveys to the audience the extreme dark side that females are subjected to.

Social Influence

Both Stockett and Zemeckis explore the idea of social influence through some minor characters such as Celia, Minny is Celia’s maid. When Celia has a miscarriage, Minny takes care of her tenderly and cleans up the blood despite her dislike to the substance that she caught Celia drinking until she discovers it’s 'catch tonic,' a folk remedy for preventing miscarriage. However, the readers see a development of trust between Minny and Celia when Celia she tells her “I been suffering from miscarriage after miscarriage and I’m hiding it from my husband”. In the novel this symbolises to the audience at this time women were expected to provide their husband children and if they couldn’t they would consider social outcasts, additionally allowing readers to sympathise with Celia. Stockett continues to emphases how social influence impacts those who are outcasts such as when Celia wears inappropriate clothing, gets unacceptably drunk, rips. Hillys dress off then proceeds to vomit on the ground. This leaves the readers sympathetic for Celia. The situation paints a more negative outlook on the social rules that are in place in the Jackson community.

Additionally, Stockett uses the mimosa tree as a symbol major turning point for Celia when she cuts it down it. Demonstrates the symbolism the control that Celia has over her own path/life in a similar manor she tries to add to the Jackson society by trying to expose the rough edges and smooth then over with her personality. This reflects back on Celia being more concerned about what others think of her than her own opinions. Social influence is also conveyed in the antagonist Hilly who. Identifyee the events and people describe in the books main plot of revenge against the maids. She was inspired to keep it all a secret about Jackson otherwise she will also be exposed for eating her own feces. 'Well, Hilly's that what you get, I guess. And I wouldn't go tattling on Minny either, or you'll be known all over town as the lady who ate two slices of Minny's shit.'

Therefore, highlighting to the audience that she is caught having make one of hardest chooses she’s faced. Having to decide whether she does harm to those that upset her or to keep her secret a secret. On the other hand, Zemeckis put the audience through Forrest eyes who sees the world though a perspective that is literal and not weighed down by metaphor or abstraction this is made clear in the scene Forrest utters “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get” which implies to the audience that life offers us an enormous variety of possibilities in all aspects of society but if things do not go the way you want them to all you have to do is go back and pick another selection. Further highlighting to readers that when life hits Forrest with some unexpectedly bad-tasting pieces of chocolate and he just keeps going back and trying another selection.


Zemeckis and Stockett both explore the idea that history of the course of time has shaped social influence, racism and gender inequality in different ways. Zemeckis observes through Forrest that some people are oblivious to how these topics impact others, whereas Stockett tackles them head on. Both pieces draw a conclusion that history has shaped the way people think and act about topics that have also divided nations.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Lessons About Social Issues Learned from Forrest Gump and The Help. (2024, Feb 12). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/lessons-about-social-issues-learned-from-forrest-gump-and-the-help-essay

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