Jenny Curran is a textbook—almost too textbook, if you ask us—example of what happens to an abused child. When Forrest looks at her, he just sees a little girl whose father loves her just as much as his mother loves him, but we know better: her father "was a very loving man," Forrest says. "He was always kissing and touching her and her sisters."
Yikes. No wonder Jenny "never wanted to go home," and no wonder she prayed with Forrest that God would turn her into a bird so she could fly away.
Although Jenny's dad is eventually arrested and she's sent to live with her grandmother, the damage is done. She never loses that desire to become a bird, but instead of realizing her ambition of becoming "a singer like Joan Baez," poor Jenny just makes one bad decision after another: posing nude, then singing nude, then dating an abusive guy, then boarding a hippie bus to California (like that's going to end well), then getting involved in a gross '70s drug scene—it's just a sad litany of What Not to Do.
Poor Little Girl
But, let's have some sympathy for the girl. Forrest is happiest at home because, for him, home is a source of comfort. His mother spends all of her life telling him to be happy and content with who he is, while Jenny's childhood was a horror show that made her want to be anything but who she is.
No wonder she seizes on any opportunity to be, do, or feel differently—and no wonder she runs away from Forrest's offer of a safe, comfortable home. She wouldn't even know what to do with a safe and comfortable home if she got one.
But then, she starts dying.
See, Forrest Gump isn't going to let Jenny get away with her bad behavior, and she's cosmically punished for it. Thanks, we assume, to some promiscuous sex and unsafe needle use, she comes down with an unnamed virus that—wink wink, nudge nudge—we know perfectly well is AIDS. And then, she wants to marry Forrest. In other words, it takes a lethal illness to teach this girl the lesson that we've all known from the beginning.
In the immortal words of 1994's best-known girl group, don't go chasing waterfalls. Jenny might have had dreams of flying away, but in the end, she belongs with Forrest—buried in a small plot of land right where she grew up.
Hmm, the movie looks a lot less optimistic through Jenny's eyes, doesn't it?