A Waif In The Wind Of Obsessive
Corruption Essay, Research Paper
A Waif in the Wind of Obsessive Corruption!
A professor once asked me to write an essay on what I thought was the philosophy of life. Assuming money was no object, and society permitted it, what would I consider my garden? Not giving it much thought, I threw together what I thought would suffice. Later, upon giving it considerable thought, I realized I truly had no opinion on the subject. My mother once told me that the meaning of life was in fact, life itself. She said that the ability to live and make our own destinies come true was the real reason behind our existence. However, society plays a large part in what we consider an ideal life. As children, we?re taught to conform, strive for superiority, and achieve overall success. As adults we?re conditioned into believing that a rejection of these values is a waste of human life. In some instances a rejection of these values is due to the anxiety associated with compliance. Society can be, and is, corrupt in many different ways. Within our lives we are subject, but not limited to, corruptions within religion, corruptions of morals, and corruption within the government. Voltaire, the author of Candide, and Robert Zemeckis, the director of ?Forrest Gump?, both use grotesquely na?ve protagonists to illustrate their view of the world in which they live. Nevertheless, Candide and Forrest, surrounded by a corrupt society, and bombarded by various character defining events, are able to come to a higher understanding as to their philosophy of life.
Candide, by Voltaire, is a story about an optimistic young man who encounters various misfortunes on his search for an ideal world. Having unfortunately been kicked out of his home for the love of Lady Cunegonde, Candide suffers through many natural and unnatural catastrophes during his travels. However, holding on to his claim that all is for the best, Candide travels the world abroad with a totally na?ve attitude. Constantly being reunited with many of his peers, Candide suffers the cruelty of the Bulgar army, a tempest, a shipwreck, an earthquake, and an auto da fe?. Candide?s optimism, stemming from his tutor Dr. Pangloss, keeps him totally determined to find his lost love, Lady Cunegonde, and an ideal world. However, Voltaire takes Candide around the world to discover that, contrary to the teachings of his distinguished tutor Dr. Pangloss, all is not always for the best.
Likewise a na?f is the main character of ?Forrest Gump? by Robert Zemeckis, which spans a period of three decades centered around a growing boy with a low IQ. Forrest manages to play an important role in every major historic postwar event except the moonwalk. As the object of abuse by local bullies, Forrest discovers his one talent: running. He becomes an All-American, is present during the integration of his college, and is sent to Vietnam after being drafted into the army. Later, Forrest receives the Medal of Honor, is present during the anti-war movement, plays a crucial role in Watergate, and finally becomes a multi-million dollar business tycoon. Through all of this, Forrest holds one thing true in his mind: Jenny. Jenny is his first and only love. Next to his mother, she?s the most important thing in his life, and the only thing he really wants. Yet, despite constant disappointments concerning Jenny, Forrest maintains his sweet-tempered, innocently na?ve philosophy of life.
Now that I am able to discern my own philosophy of life, I?ve come to two conclusions. The first is that life is entirely personal. It?s your life and entirely up to you to determine whether or not you want something from it. The second is that society can be very cruel. Society places norms and standards on what it feels an ideal life consists of, all the while corrupting a person in every way possible. However, an individual has to either be na?ve, or susceptible to such a corruption. In comparison, Voltaire and Zemeckis share a similar view concerning the corruptions within a society. While making a point that though corruption is evident, and life can be very uncertain, it?s entirely up to the individual as to the outcome of his or her future. Throughout their lives, Candide and Forrest experience just about everything that is humanly possible to endure. In the end, they both make the choice to wind up essentially where they began; content and fulfilled.
In Candide, Voltaire uses general criticisms paired with specific examples to illustrate his idea concerning the contemporary corruption of the time. It is a ?grinning critique of the 18th century?s excesses and cruelties? (Kanfer 1). With Candide, Voltaire tried to show the world just how unjust and cruel it was. He specifically focused on the ignorance of the nobility?s pride, corruption seen in religion, corruption of the government, corruption of morals, and the flaw in complacent optimism. Voltaire takes Candide through all of these forms of corruption to make him realize his ideals and his own personal philosophy on life.
Illustrations concerning the ignorance of nobility?s pride are evident particularly in the Baron, the six dethroned kings, and Don Fernando. The fact that the Baron refuses to let Candide marry his sister because she has seventy-two generations of nobility in her blood is sheer arrogance. Before he knew Candide wanted to marry his sister ?the baron?called him his brother and savior? (Voltaire 56). When the Baron realized Candide?s intentions he called him an ?insolent wretch? (56). Towards the end of the story, after Candide rescued the Baron from the galley slave ship, he still refused to let him marry his sister! This illustrates the true arrogance and ignorance of the Baron, and the point Voltaire is trying to make about the nobles? pride. The passage concerning the dinner Candide shared with the six dethroned kings illustrates arrogance as well. The six kings, who were once very powerful, are now dethroned and forced to dwell upon their misfortunes. One of whom, named King Theodore, is so poor, that the others, including Candide, offer him some money. When Candide gives him much more than the others, they are insulted. As it states, ?who is this ordinary private individual?who can afford to give a hundred times as much as any of us? (107). Even though they are dethroned, and no longer possess any power, they still consider themselves above Candide. This illustrates their arrogance and condescension. Another example is illustrated when Candide and Cunegonde encountered Don Fernando. The Don asked Candide if he and Cunegonde were married, and Candide told him they were engaged. He immediately dismissed Candide and pursued Cunegonde. This illustrates the arrogance on the Don?s part in thinking that he could steal Cunegonde simply because he thought his title made him more noble than Candide. Voltaire?s purpose for these illustrations is to basically say that it is silly to be arrogant.
Illustrations concerning the corruption of religion are seen in many places throughout Voltaire?s work as well. Perhaps the most noticeable example occurs when Candide escapes the Bulgar army. Candide stumbles upon a Protestant priest giving a sermon on charity. Yet, when Candide pleads for charity, he is punished because he would not swear the Pope to be the anti-Christ. The priest dismisses Candide for being disobedient instead of helping him in a Christian manner. Another example is seen in the fact that the old woman Candide traveled with claims she is the Pope?s child. This is corrupt because the Pope was supposed to be celibate. Another example occurs when the Baron is promoted within the Inquisition for giving sexual favors. This is ironic in the sense that the values the Inquisition stood for should see this type of behavior as a sin. Voltaire uses the auto-da-fe? as another example of corruption in religion. During this time, the people of the Inquisition were killing others with different beliefs, thinking that it would please God and stop an earthquake. Actually, by murdering men in the presence of God, they committed a great sin.
Throughout Candide, corruption of the government is seen in various locations. The first example is illustrated when Candide is deceived into joining the Bulgar army. The most predominant, however, is the constant raping of women by soldiers of war. In a war, both sides? committed malicious acts, all the while thanking God as if it were acceptable. Ironically, God would condemn such a behavior. Readers see another example when the English general is shot because he didn?t kill enough French soldiers. To murder someone because he didn?t commit enough murder is ridiculous. Another example is illustrated when Candide raises his voice to the judge in hopes that he will help recover his stolen property. The judge fines Candide instead of helping him with his problem.
When Voltaire was concerned with the corruption of morals, he focused on a male/female context. For example, in the beginning, Pangloss contracts a sexual disease. When explaining his condition he spoke of a long strain of possible carriers. This leads the reader to believe that at that time, everyone was sleeping with each other. All of the rapes seen throughout this work are rooted in a corruption of morals as well. A corruption of morals can be seen in both Cunegonde and Candide as well. Cunegonde, being an opportunist, cashes in on Candide whenever she can. Though claiming to love him, it?s apparent that she loves only herself. At the end, she only marries him because he has money, and she unfortunately became ugly. Candide only marries her because he made a promise and wants to be loyal. He, in fact, is subject to this form of corruption as well.
The ideals of complacent optimism stem from Dr. Pangloss, and the flaws stem from a combination of the afore mentioned corruptions. Voltaire is trying to say that optimism creates a na?ve person, and a na?ve person will get hurt. Readers see this naivet? when the soldiers force Candide into the army, and again when he na?vely trusts the captain to return and fetch him. However, Voltaire juxtaposes this with two other forms of personal philosophies: Martin?s and Cacambo?s. Martin represents philosophical pessimism, and Cacambo represents a mixture of both Pangloss and Martin. Voltaire puts Candide in the presence of varying philosophies, forcing him to form some of his own. In essence, Voltaire uses Candide ?to advocate philosophical skepticism? (Beck 1). He takes Candide through every form of corruption available to examine ?the corresponding human capacity for optimism? (Bell 1). To read Candide and hope to simply perform a character analysis would be missing the boat. One must read Candide in a worldly context, examining the true meaning behind Voltaire?s work. Candide represents ?the traditional figure of innocent abroad? (1). Voltaire ?sardonically seeks to discover if there is any reliable source of happiness for mankind? (2).
In the end, Candide ?has come to learn the harsh lesson that Voltaire is putting forward? (2). Having been subject to various calamities and philosophies, he finally gets it! The point is that though society, including Lady Cunegonde, may be corrupt, we (as individuals of free choice) ?must cultivate our garden? (Voltaire 120). ?Garden?, in this context, is a metaphor for whatever the reader considers an ideal situation. Voltaire is trying to say that ?the goodness of Providence is the only asylum in which man can take refuge? (Bell 2).
In ?Forrest Gump?, Robert Zemeckis used Forrest in much the same way that Voltaire used Candide. It?s like Candide in the way that it?s ?an unabrasive satire of the idiocy of life?manifested in various touchstone events? (Baumbach 1). Zemeckis takes Forrest through a life of fairytale adventures, encountering many different people, to come to some form of enlightenment. The difference is that Forrest retains his purity in the face of corruption, while Candide participates in it. Both characters, however, travel through their lives, innocent and extremely na?ve.
The film?s opening shot follows a feather floating aimlessly through the air, which lands at the feet of our unsung hero. This is a visual metaphor which ?specifically ties Forrest to the feather; he too will be buffeted by the winds of postwar America? (Giunti 2). Forrest?s inability to comprehend the importance of his experiences is what allows Zemeckis to convey his message. For example, Forrest doesn?t realize why he?s playing college football, he?s not even sure why he got to meet the president, he?s just happy that they had lots of Dr. Pepper. Another example is illustrated when Forrest is present for the integration of his college. When he retrieves the dropped textbook of one of the black students, and returns it, he is naturally committing an act of kindness. Though it would normally have been considered an act of bravery, he doesn?t know the degree of the circumstances. He does what would normally be considered a morally courageous act, but ?the action loses him no social advantage? (2). He earns the Medal of Honor in Vietnam for saving a platoon of men, when all he really wanted to do was find Bubba. He did exactly what Jenny made him promise to do: run. When asked about it, Forrest attributes the honor to Jenny, saying, ?I only got it doing what you told me to do?. Finally, one of the most evident examples of Forrest?s na?vet? is in the scene when Jenny is confronted with her childhood home. Having been sexually molested as a child, she becomes angry and starts throwing rocks at the house. Forrest thinks her sadness is due to the lack of rocks to throw. As na?ve as it may seem, Forrest, as Jenny says, ?just doesn?t know any better.?
Throughout Forrest?s life two things remain constant: the ridicule he endures from various people, and his love for Jenny. Zemeckis illustrates the corruption throughout society in the way Forrest is treated by members of that society. Evident in the very beginning, Forrest is the object of ridicule in his town. It begins with the old men leering at his leg braces, and continues with the local bullies who torment him into adolescence. Even Forrest?s mother is forced to take part in the corruption seen in the film. In order to keep Forrest out of a ?special school?, she sleeps with the school board superintendent. Almost every time Forrest encounters someone new, and exchanges dialogue, he is met with a criticizing statement. For example, when Forrest tells Bubba?s mother his plan, and again when he buys a shrimp boat, both incidences are met with an: ?are you stupid?? The people Zemeckis is trying to illustrate cannot accept the fact that someone can be as pure of heart as Forrest. They question his intellect and assume that no rational person can sustain such values. Another illustration of society?s corruption is evident in the fact that they have to have a motive behind his desire to continue running across America. No one can accept the fact the he ?just felt like running?. They have to ask if it?s for some worldly cause or divine purpose. When Forrest says, ?they couldn?t understand why someone just wanted to run?, viewers can?t help but laugh at the irony. This is ironic in the sense that it illustrates society?s na?vet?. Is society so disillusioned that they have to strive for a motive in someone else?s life? Searching for her motive, or purpose for life, Zemeckis suffers Jenny ?to bear the brunt of every excess of the past three decades? (Giunti 3).
Jenny is consistently reuniting with, and leaving Forrest, again and again. Zemeckis portrays Jenny in much the same way as Lady Cunegonde: an opportunist. She is confronted with many of the before mentioned corruptions in Candide. Her father subjected her to a corruption of morals at a young age, which we can discern as the source of her corruption and delinquency growing up. Her sexual activity before marriage, her participation in protests, her use of drugs, and her disregard of Forrest?s true feelings, all signify her absolute corruption. However, Zemeckis uses this to illustrate the point that absolute corruption can be overcome, if you make the choice. For example, throughout the story the viewers are meant to treat Jenny with a harsh attitude, but at the end, when she accepts Forrest, we accept her. This redemptive quality is the same thing that allows Lieutenant Dan to ?make his peace with God.?
Lieutenant Dan, who can be characterized in much the same way as Martin, is an extreme pessimist. He resents Forrest for saving his life in Vietnam. He believes that it was his duty to die on the battlefield. He appears a second time only to criticize Forrest?s accomplishment for receiving the Medal of Honor. When Lt. Dan returns for the third time, to help Forrest with his shrimp boat business, he is in a transitional state of character. The viewers are able to see that his attitude is changing from one of pessimism to one of appreciation. He is beginning to connect with Forrest and his values. Upon the fourth and final return of Lt. Dan, for Forrest?s marriage, he is a new man. Zemeckis not only brings him back with a clean look, but with new legs as well. This situation is a metaphor for the theme of the movie: that is, no matter how bleak a situation, one can overcome it if one chooses to do so. This statement underlies the essential connection between both Candide and ?Forrest Gump?: choice. Everyone has choices to make in life; it?s what we make of that choice that determines our course. Lt. Dan and Jenny, ?both of whom reject past lifestyles as empty?share in the redemptive decency that they can now recognize in Forrest? (Giunti 3).
In Judith Zinsser?s critique on ?Forrest Gump?, she tries to discern the popularity of the movie. Zinsser believes that many people relate to ?the joyful innocence and generosity of the central character, the loving determination of his mother, and the fairy tale quality of his adventures? (1). However, Zinsser believes that the characters in the movie are ?stereotypes playing out a simplistic, anti-intellectual fantasy that mocks our? processes and institutions? (1). Yet, throughout her critique, Zinsser actually plays right into the role in which the movie?s popularity fed off of: ?I had tears in my eyes with everyone else when?and again when?? (1). She?s contradicting herself by giving the reason for the movie?s popularity: emotional content. Yet Zinsser believes that it is the touching shifts in the plot that contradict the apparent message of the film. For example, she feels the biggest contradiction of all is: ?you make your own destiny, Forrest? and ?life is like a box of chocolates?. However, standing on Zinsser?s shoulders one could discern that it is these apparent contradictions that allow Forrest to grow and adapt to what is occurring in his life, thus enabling him to come to a deeper understanding at the end of the film.
In the end, Forrest ultimately realizes his interpretation of the meaning of life. Bombarded with different notions of the meaning of life, as Candide was, Forrest realizes that ?you make your own destiny?. It is not until Jenny dies that he actually gets it! When he has her childhood home bulldozed to the ground we know that he understands the corruption that originated within. It is during this emotional scene that Zemeckis allows Forrest?s true character to show. He is still compassionate, kind, and reserved, yet he possesses an understanding that can hardly be described in words. Forrest has suffered through a multitude of character defining events, yet it is when he discovers his son?s intelligence, and Jenny?s death, that he ?awakens? unknowingly.
Character defining ?awakenings? are all too common but not always documented. Some critics believe that the message of ?Forrest Gump? was to show ?that a man doesn?t have to be rich or smart to be dignified? (Ryan 4). While that may seem a fair assumption, it misses the entire message of the film. Matthew Giunti believes that ?the message is clear: you can do good?or you can do well, but to do both, simply turn off your mind and go with the flow? (3). Though that also seems to be a fair assumption, both lack a connection to Voltaire?s Candide. Candide is a fantastic advocate for philosophical skepticism. What Voltaire and Zemeckis are trying to say in these works is that life is cruel. We are all pawns in the malicious chess game orchestrated by the almighty. The difference however being that by exercising our choice to either fulfill our life or aimlessly float about, we in fact free ourselves from the constraints of ?the game?. It is in this choice, and freedom associated with it, that enables us (Jenny, Lt. Dan, Forrest, Candide, Lady Cunegonde, etc?) to live the rest of our lives content and fulfilled.
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