Umberto Eco On ‘Krazy Kat’ and ‘Peanuts’ (1985)

Charlie Brown has been called the most sensitive child ever to appear in a comic strip, a figure capable of Shakespearean shifts of mood; and Schulz’s pencil succeeds in rendering these variations with an economy of means that has something miraculous about it. The text, always almost courtly (these children rarely lapse into slang or commit anacoluthon), is enhanced by drawings able to portray, in each character, the subtlest psychological nuance. Thus the daily tragedy of Charlie Brown is drawn, in our eyes, with exemplary incisiveness.

To elude this tragedy of nonintegration, each psychological type has its strategies. The girls escape it thanks to an obstinate self-sufficiency and haughtiness: Lucy (a giantess to be admired with awe), Patty, and Violet are all of a piece; perfectly integrated (or should we say “alienated”), they move from hypnotic sessions at the TV to rope-skipping and to everyday talk interwoven with sarcasm, achieving peace through insensitivity.

Linus, the smallest, on the other hand, is already burdened with every neurosis; emotional instability would be his perpetual condition if the society in which he lives had not already offered him the remedies. Linus already has behind him Freud, Adler, and perhaps also Binswanger (via Rollo May); he has identified his baby-blanket as the symbol of a uterine peace or a purely oral happiness—sucking his finger, blanket against his cheek (if possible, with TV turned on, in front of which he can huddle like an Indian; but he can also be without anything, in an oriental sort of isolation, attached to his symbols of protection).

Take away his blanket and he will be plunged once more into all the emotional troubles lying in wait for him day and night. Because, we must add, along with the instability of a neurotic society he has absorbed all its wisdom. Linus represents its most technologically up-to-date product. While Charlie Brown is unable to make a kite that will not get caught in the branches of a tree, Linus reveals suddenly, in bursts, dazzling skills: he performs feats of amazing equilibrium, he can strike a quarter flung in the air with the edge of his blanket, snapping it like a whip (“the fastest blanket in the West!”).