Comparing Forest Gump to Lazarillo De Tormes Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Traditional and Modern Picaresque:

The Adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes and Forrest Gump

According to Maximillian E. Ovak, unlike some other literary designations, such as the baroque and the grotesque, the essential features of the picaresque in literature has been defined based upon a series of notable and specific works of fiction, including The Adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes. Lazarillo was a critical influence upon the genre’s development and also its definition among literary historians. In general, the genre is associated with the following features: a fluid social situation, whereby the rogue hero can easily move in and out of history and his fortunes can take sharp upturns and downturns; a pseudo-autobiographical format, whereby the narrator claims to be either the hero or to know the hero and thus has authority in verifying and detailing absurd circumstances; and finally a partial and prejudiced narrator but one with a critical and reflexive view of the situation, even if the narrator and the hero are the same. Another example of a picaresque novel where the novel’s narrator and the hero are the same yet extremely self-critical is that of Moll Flanders, whereby the repentant Moll looks back on her life as a prostitute and thief.

Other characteristics of the picaresque novel include a wide array of social classes, and a stress on material circumstances—the hero may be born poor and achieve great wealth, or may lose and gain several fortunes over the course of his existence. Being born into poverty is common as the beginning of the tale of picaresque characters. The story is usually episodic, and even if there is a narrative drive, it is usually fairly loose. The novel often focuses on showing the reader a series of strange places and people to amaze them, more so then to create a sense of suspense. Finally, there is what Ovak calls a sense of moving “horizontally through space” and “vertically through society” (Ovak 77). This means that the character changes place in the sense of traveling but also goes up and down in terms of his social class. But while these characteristics may be notable in fiction, they are not confined solely to literature. This paper will explore how the classical elements are manifested in Lazarillo and then compare how its features are adapted, changed, but are still simultaneously discernable in what has been called the modern picaresque of the film Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks. Forrest Gump is episodic and boasts a hero who is naïve and undergoes a series of reversals of fortune, but its American context and more importantly its cinematic medium allows for less irony and satire than is present in the picaresque literary guises.

The Traditional Picaresque Model: The Adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes.

In the classic The Adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes, the young boy is apprenticed to a blind beggar by his own mother after his father is condemned as a thief. The beginning of book is narrated in Lazarillo’s guileless tones, but the actual constructor of the narration is obviously not nearly as naïve as his narrator, as he frequently contrasts Lazarillo’s credulity with the hard lessons his masters impart upon him, beginning with the beggar who nearly beats him senseless with a stone. “…if I do not keep a sharp look-out for myself I shall have none to assist me,” Lazarillo reflects, and this sober idea could be said to define many heroes of the picaresque genre (17). The picaresque hero is rarely bad in and of himself by nature, but the hardscrabble circumstances into which he is forced compel him to behave in such a manner. Lazarillo’s narrative voice grows more knowing as the narration continues and he sees the venal ways of the world, specifically the clergy.

The picaresque story often takes particular delight in showing how true virtue is seldom rewarded, versus those who are clever and effectively “game” the system. Although Lazarillo’s mother contract him to the blind beggar because she believes the beggar is holy, and hopes that her son will lead a good life, in fact the beggar is merely clever at reciting Bible verses to wheedle money out of clients. One reason the story is authored anonymously is because it was perceived as having anticlerical overtones. The book is divided into a series of chapters, during which the hero is contracted to a series of masters, most of whom are representatives of the clergy. Of the priest, for example, Lazarillo observes that, his eye, “danced about the moneybox as though they were quicksilver,” and Lazarillo mourns that he was unable to steal a single coin all the while he was working for the priest (28). Still, being contracted to the priest represents a considerable upturn in Lazarillo’s fortunes, compared with his previous master. In fact, his kindest and poorest master—a squire—is the only non-religious figure to whom the boy is contracted.

A deflationary attitude to the clergy is not an essential feature of the picaresque novel, although it is clearly part of the intention and thematic presentation of Lazarillo. Through a series of accidents, not so much by his own virtue, but by manipulating the scoundrels whom he…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

The Adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes. Trans. J.C. Nimo & Bain, 1881.

“The Cultural Context Surrounding ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’” Art and Analysis. Web. December 17, 2018. https://sites.uark.edu/alf010/the-cultural-context-surrounding-lazarillo-de- tormes/

Defoe, Daniel. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders. New York, NY: Fawcett, 1967.

Ebert, Robert. “Forest Gump.” July 6, 1994. Web. December 17, 2018. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/forrest-gump-1994

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1994.

Ovak, Maximillian E. “Liberty, Libertinism, and Randomness: Form and Content in Picaresque Fiction.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 4, no. 1, 1972, pp. 75–85. 

Zemeckis, Robert, Steve Tisch, Wendy Finerman, Steve Starkey, Eric Roth, Don Burgess, Arthur Schmidt, Alan Silvestri, Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field, and Winston Groom. Forrest Gump. Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures, 2001.


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