Jenny Curran: An Analysis Research Paper Examples
Jenny Curren: An Analysis
Jenny Curren is Forrest Gump’s best friend and the love of his life in the movie “Forrest Gump”. Forrest is mildly intellectually disabled, innocent and proud. Jenny befriends him on his first day of school and they embark on a relationship throughout their lives. Forrest never could understand Jenny’s complex and often self-destructive life. The viewer is allowed to see the destructive path she takes in life in stark contrast to Forrest’s life and his achievements. This paper is an examination and analysis of Jenny’s life in the context of two psychodynamic theories: Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson.
Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages of development grew from the idea that children experience sexual pleasure which have an effect on the psyche. The child must successfully achieve each of these stages or there could be problems later in life. The first is the Oral Stage which is associated with breast feeding (Thurschwell 2000). The second stage is the Anal Stage and involves potty training (Thurschwell 2000). The third is the critical Phallic Stage: a boy’s natural love for his mother becomes entwined with his sexual feelings (Thurschwell 2000). Boys also discover that females have no penis. Girls have their natural love for their father which becomes sexual as well, but when girls realize they do not possess a penis they develop penis envy (Thurschwell 2000). The Latency Stage is an in between stage where children have repressed their sexual feelings. When they hit puberty in adolescence they reach the Genital Stage (Thurschwell 2000).
According to Thurschwell (2000), Freud also describes the personality in structural and topographical models. The structural model is composed of three parts: the Id; the Ego and the Superego. The Id is the part we are born with, it is the part of the personality that demands immediate gratification. The id is based in infancy when we rely on others to care for us. The second part is the Ego which begins to develop around age 3. The Ego is based in reality. It understands that others have needs and wants as well. Lastly, the Superego develops around the time of the Phallic Stage. The Superego represents our morals. The Ego balances the Id and the Super Ego. Our mind has a conscious, that which we are aware of at a given moment and a vast subconscious. We can retrieve some information from the subconscious (Thurschwell 2000).
Erik Erikson’s theory of development was created with Freud’s theories in mind. Erikson felt that child development was not prompted by sexual desire alone. Erikson proposed that everyone is born with the stages of development already wired but latent and waiting to emerge at the right time. Each stage is set into motion by a crisis which the ego must solve. The family and the culture of the child are instrumental in how each stage is navigated. The first stage is Trust vs Mistrust, the infant allows the mother to leave and knows she will return. Stage 2 is Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt. A child learns how to behave more independently. Stage 3 is Initiative vs Guilt. This stage builds on autonomy by planning and completing tasks. Industry vs Inferiority in stage 4 also builds on initiative. At this stage children begin a task that is not considered a simple whim or play, it has purpose. In adolescence, Stage 5, Identity vs Role Confusion, the child is concerned with their appearance and how others perceive him. Intimacy vs Isolation is when the adult can be physical and trusting with a partner or mate. Stage 7 is Generativity vs Stagnation, in which an adult establishes and guides the next generation. And lastly is Ego Integrity vs Despair. This last stage represents the ego’s life work and capacity for understanding (Weiland 1993).
Jenny Curren grew up without a mother and a drunken abusive father. He was physically and sexually abusive. The first time the audience is made aware of this fact, Jenny is about six years old. This age is critical in psycho-sexual development according to Freud (Thurschwell 2000). Jenny is acutely aware that her father possesses a penis and is engaging in sexual acts with her. This can cause an enormous amount of guilt and confusion. This abuse later takes the form of an insecure woman.
According to Erikson, this sexual abuse occurred at the Initiative vs Guilt stage of development. This could cause conflict in the young Jenny as she tries to understand if she should act on a thought or impulse or not (Weiland 1993). She may question her behavior and the result of the abuse. She tries to exert her independence through the act of running away. This initiative does not take place in the context of play however. This initiative is the act of not submitting to her father’s will. As she matures she will continue to run away from distressing situations.
Jenny is eventually removed from her father’s home and sent to live with her grandmother. She develops a habit of sneaking out and running to Forrest’s home where she innocently sleeps with him for safety and comfort. According to Erikson’s model, she is still in the Initiative vs Guilt stage (Weiland 1993). Outward appearances at school may suggest that she is developing Industry but in her head she is still grappling with the fears of her abuse.
In Freud’s model of development, Jenny is in her Latency Period of sexual feelings (Thurschwell 2000). This is evident in the innocence she displays in sneaking into Forrest’s room. She is simply looking to be held and made safe. The situation of being with her grandmother at this point and having the security of friendship with Forrest, provides her with some time for peace.
As Jenny matures, she and Forrest go their separate ways for college. Forrest visits Jenny one night at her school. She is in a car with a young man who is getting a little forceful. She tells him strongly to stop, Forrest overhears and pulls the young man out of the car and hits him. Jenny drags him off and takes him up to her dorm room. She undresses and questions Forrest about his experiences with girls (he has had none). She allows him to touch her breast which results in his ejaculation. Jenny is clearly trying out her sexuality on Forrest, her oldest friend in the world. She is firmly entrenched in Erikson’s Identity vs Role Confusion stage (Weiland 1993). She tells Forrest that she would like to be a singer, like Joan Baez. She attempting to develop her sense of identity and is having difficulty in deciding who she is and where she belongs. She does begin to perform as a singer, but her venue is a strip club. She chooses to sit on stage naked to perform and becomes angry when the audience wants to see “more”. Another of her attempts at a career and defining herself is posing nude for Playboy magazine. As Jenny enters her adulthood, she is using her sexuality to define herself and not exploring other avenues that could be available to her. This behavior and perception of herself is rooted in her abuse.
Although she has outgrown Freud’s theory of psycho-sexual development, her problems of childhood are manifesting in other ways as an adult. She is using denouement according to Freud. This is a mechanism in which a woman becomes very seductive to dominate men. Jenny’s Ego is struggling to balance the Id and the Superego. This tension results in the employment of several defense mechanisms that Jenny has developed. Jenny is successfully using repression to rid herself of guilt and hide her abuse. When she becomes angry she projects this anger onto Forrest. She engages in sexual activity to displace the feelings of shame and guilt she harbors from the sexual abuse (Thurschwell 2000).
As the movie progresses, Jenny is like a chameleon taking on the culture and values of the men she surrounds herself with. When she encounters Forrest in Washington D.C. she has adopted the persona of a hippie. She is now involved in a physically abusive relationship with a political activist. She is no longer using her sexuality for strength and seduction of men. Her low self-esteem now has her submissive and unable to fight back against her lover. When he hits her, Forrest again comes to her rescue. Freud would note that deep in Jenny’s subconscious, is the thought that Forrest, despite his limited intellectual capacity, can protect her (Thurschwell 2000).
As for Erikson’s theory, Jenny is still in the Identity vs Role Confusion stage. She is not capable of moving on to the next stage of Intimacy vs Isolation (Weiland 1993). She is unable to love herself and cannot feel intimate with a man yet. During 1970’s she is in a major city. She is partying and living with a drug dealer. At this time she has entered Erikson’s Intimacy vs Isolation and she is wrapped in isolation (Weiland 1993). She steps out onto the balcony of the high-rise apartment and contemplates jumping. She stops herself and withdraws. She begins to cry, this is the first time we see her release her emotion.
We lose Jenny’s storyline for a while. Forrest returns home to his dying mother and thinks often of Jenny and where she may be. Jenny appears one day, dressed simply and wearing no make-up. She stays with Forrest for a period. She sleeps and rests. She is physically, mentally and emotionally worn out. For the first time, Jenny seems happy being with Forrest in his house in the country. They come across her childhood home one day and her anger boils to the surface. She begins feverishly grabbing rocks and throwing them at the dilapidated house. Freud would see the Id here, lashing out in its infantile desire for gratification (Thurschwell 2000). This crisis in Erikson’s theory could be positive and push Jenny into the next stage of development.
One night Jenny tiptoes into Forrest’s. She is dressed like she did and was as a little girl in a simple white nightgown. This time the intimacy between the two takes on a physical and sexual aspect. Jenny finally achieved a brief moment of true intimacy with another human. However, unable to control and understand herself, she sneaks away the next morning.
The crisis brought her to the next level, but we do not see Jenny for several more years. Forrest receives a letter from her and travels to see her. She has had a son from her union with Forrest. Jenny has achieved a peace in her life as a result of the birth of this child. In Freud’s theory the birth represents Jenny’s conquest of the penis envy she suffered for so many years. According to Erikson, Jenny has entered the Generativity vs Stagnation stage (Weiland 1993). She has a child she loves and is raising with pride. By achieving this act in both Freud’s model and Erikson’s model, Jenny has finally matured and found some peace in herself.
She admits to Forrest that the boy is his child. A few years ago, Jenny probably would not have done that. She shares with Forrest that she is ill with a mysterious virus. This news has pushed her into the Ego Integrity vs Despair stage (Weiland 1993). She has matured, her son has brought her joy and love. She now recognizes that her Id has hurt her in its pursuit of vain satisfactions. She is finally ready to love and be loved. She and Forrest marry and she dies shortly after.
The story of Jenny, and her progression through the models of development proposed by Freud and Erikson is fascinating. Freud’s model identified her penis envy and her use of sexuality as a result of her childhood sexual abuse. The employment of defense mechanism such as projection, repression and displacement could not heal her, only the birth of her child could. She also clearly progressed through Erikson’s model of development. She got stuck in the Identity vs Role Confusion stage and again in the Intimacy vs Isolation stage. When she was ready, intellectually and emotionally she was able to move forward. It was satisfying that at the end she was able to die in peace with the man who loved her and the son she gave him.
Finerman, W., Tisch, S., Starkey, S., and Newirth, C. Producers) and Zemekis, R. (Director).
(1994). Forrest Gump [Motion Picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.
Thurschwell, P. (2000). Sigmund Freud. London: Routledge.
Weiland, Steven. (1993). Erik Erikson: Ages, stages and stories. Generations, 17(2). Retrieved
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