Peanuts: Big Picture on a Small Scale

“Peanuts,” Schulz once said, “deals in defeat.” At its core, the comic parses existential angst, strip by strip—not Cold War anxiety, a cloud under which “Peanuts” developed and flourished, but the garden-variety anxieties found in everyday life. Charlie Brown is the comic’s everyman, adept at losing one day and still rising the next to see things through. And yet, as grounded in real life as it seems to be, “Peanuts” shows very little of the actual world. The comic is striking for its spare visual details, its generic, repetitious settings, and its constrained action.

One can easily forget how unlikely this cultural ascendency might have seemed when “Peanuts” débuted. Schulz created an oddly shaped boy, an anthropomorphized dog, and a host of children who don’t behave or speak as children do, and he placed them in an efficient, nondescript setting—only on the surface of reality, you might say. The reader should be skeptical of this setup. And yet Charlie Brown’s emotional struggle is familiar, and the reader is roused by it.

The New Yorker pulls an essay by Nicole Rudick that reveals how
Peanuts helps us ponder life, the universe, and everything.

This essay was drawn from the anthology “The Peanuts Papers: Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life,” which will be published this fall by the Library of America.



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