Ron’s Disconnect with Society

In Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, the protagonist, Ron Kovic, returns home to find an America quite different from the one he left.  The reception he receives not only from friends and strangers, but his own family, is not the one he expected nor is he pleased with the way others view him or his disability.  The three scenes that best illustrate this are his initial reception home, the conversation with his family at dinner and his conversation with his ex-girlfriend, though he does not at first realize this status, Donna.

From the moment that Ron exits his father’s car and sits in his wheelchair, we are already given a glimpse of the divide Ron will face as the camera quickly changes to the children playing in the street.  Yet, instead of playing they are frozen, staring at Ron, and we see the ball they were playing with roll away ignored.  As his family comes out one by one and greets him they all express their joy at his return as everyone, family and neighbors, are only able to muster “You look good!” to Ron.  However, we can sense the uneasiness as Ron’s brother looks at Ron, while he is not looking, as something puzzling, foreign, and strange.

It is this same brother with whom Ron will have a heated argument, though the conversation is one-sided, at dinner.  As Ron laments the reception he and other veterans have received and excoriates the people who disagree with the war, Ron’s brother leaves the table.  After Ron is told by his sister that his brother disagrees with the war, Ron proceeds to interrogate him, demanding to know if his brother is ashamed.  His brother’s reply is harsh and sets Ron off even further:

“All they are saying Ronny is that they don’t want more people to come back like you…You served your country.  What did you get out of it?  Look at you.  Look at you, man.  I gotta go.  I’ll see you around, alright?”

All Ron can respond is with more vehemence as he is incredulous at the way he is treated by his own brother.  This shows the how broad the disconnect between Ron and society at large is.

Ron’s encounter with Donna also serves to highlight the changes in society.  Donna is a highly involved individual who, though she is happy to see Ron, has moved on to another relationship, and to other goals.  Ron does not initially realize this.  When they reach the steps leading into the Donna’s building, Ron’s wheelchair is stopped by the first step.  This symbolizes the end of his relationship with Donna.  He cannot pursue her into the building.  He cannot ascend to the steps to take his place with her.  He has seemingly reached his social limits.

That Ron has trouble adjusting to life after his injury is not simply related to his disability.  However, his disability emphasizes the divide between this new society and himself.  Ron must adapt to a world that has changed without him.


One Response to “Ron’s Disconnect with Society”

  1. Anne Karch Says:

    The scenes in “Born on the Fourth of July” that you cited emphasize heavily the social barriers that Ron faces. In the scene with Donna, the step he hits with the chair is physical stopper that is a metaphor for the much great divide between Ron and Donna that we realized in the scene leading up to that moment. She’s out protesting the war and engaged to another man, and Ron needs to learn to be the person he really is, not the high school athletic star.

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