I can feel it sort of pressing against my teeth …

Charlie Brown, the existentialist:

In order to identify examples of Schulz’s philosophy, a bumper-sticker version of existentialism should prove helpful. In his seminal 1946 work L’Existentialisme est un Humanisme, Sartre outlines some of the core aspects of his theories. A key aspect is the idea of abandonment. Kierkegaard felt that there was an unbridgeable gap between God and Man. Sartre goes even further, and argues that even if there is an unknowable and unreachable God, it wouldn’t make any difference to the human condition. Ultimately, we exist in an abandoned and free state. We are responsible for our actions, and since Sartre argues that there is no God to conceive of a human nature, we are responsible for our own creation.

How does this apply to Peanuts? Like the existential human in a world of silent or absent deities, Schulz’s characters exist in a world of silent or absent adult authority. In fact, the way the strip is drawn (with the child characters taking up most of each frame) actually prevents the presence of any adults. Schulz argued that, were adults added to the strip, the narratives would become untenable. While references are sometimes made to full-grown humans (normally school teachers) these characters are always out of frame, and silent. The children of Peanuts are left to their own devices, to try and understand the world they have found themselves thrust into. They have to turn to each other for support – hence, Lucy’s blossoming psychiatric booth (at five cents a session, a very good deal).

An ideal example of abandonment is the relationship between Linus and The Great Pumpkin. Every Halloween, Linus faithfully waits by a pumpkin patch, in the hopes that he will be blessed with the holy experience of a visitation by The Great Pumpkin. Of course, The Great Pumpkin never shows up, and He never answers Linus’ letters. Despite this, Linus remains steadfast, even going door to door to spread the word of his absent deity. Does The Great Pumpkin exist? We can never know. But from an existential point of view, it doesn’t matter if he exists or not. The important thing is that Linus is abandoned and alone in his pumpkin patch.

Sartre did not deny the existence of God triumphantly. Instead, he considered it “… extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven.”. Without God, everything we do as humans is absurd, and without meaning. Certainly, spending all night in a pumpkin patch would qualify as embarrassing as well. In the absence of any parental edicts, the characters in Peanuts have had to become very philosophically minded in order to establish for themselves what is right and wrong. When Linus gets a sliver in his finger, a conflict erupts between Lucy’s theological determinism (he is being punished for something he did wrong) and Charlie Brown’s philosophical uncertainty (when the sliver falls out, Lucy’s position crumbles). At Christmas time, Linus dictates a letter to Santa, questioning the validity of Santa’s ethical judgments regarding the goodness or badness of the individual child. “What is good? What is bad?” asks Linus. Good questions.

(Link via Arts and Letters Daily).


Comments are closed.