Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sunday, March 21, 1954: Eight stages of grief

Read this strip at

Beginning with panel eight:

1. Shock
2. Disbelief
3. Confirmation
4. Anger
5. Blankness
6. Taking off your shirt(?)
7. Wide-mouthed frowning
8. Sighing

They might not be the official stages, but they work for Charlie Brown.

This is possibly the most directly hostile act so far seen in Peanuts.  It would be worthy of Lucy.  There are no extenuating circumstances, and nothing sets Patty off, yet she accomplishes her self-appointed task with relish.  It's kind of out of character.  Even when she's part of the team act with Violet against CB, their methods are less overt.

Switch the gender roles here and the strip would turn out quite different.  Even this early, it doesn't seem to be in Charlie Brown's nature to do something this mean.  It's the kind of thing Calvin might do to Susie, but not without some form of judgmental comeuppance from the cartoonist.


  1. I'd describe stage 6 as "getting ready for bed" -- and I must confess, when I'm feeling depressed usually the first thing I do is put on my pajamas. I mean, you might as well be comfortable, right?

  2. This is maybe my favorite "Peanuts" strip ever, because it's so unbelievably bleak. His comically premature existentialism and feelings of futility will become his definitive characteristics, but in these panels, we very well may be witnessing the final nail in the coffin for Charlie Brown's innocence.

    Look at the first panels; Charlie Brown is happy- and moreover, content, and unselfconscious. He doesn't see the abuse coming, and he's not looking for it. Now look at the alarm and horror in his face as Patty destroys his labors. He's genuinely mortified and uncomprehending.

    By this point in the strips run, Charlie Brown's almost fully given himself to a life of resigned pessimism ("That's the way it goes." he's been apt to say lately), but I think Patty pushed him over the the edge here, never to return. Eventually, when the recurring football gags with Lucy begin to appear, he may work up some hope during his run-up to the ball that this time is going to be be different, but he never seems all too surprised to find himself flat on his back by strip's end. Charlie Brown's pessimism sort of forms a callus over the years, protecting him from the feelings of goggle-eyed despair on display in panel #7.

    There have been similar strips on this theme during this period, where Linus is carefully building something with his blocks only for Lucy to viciously kick them all over the place. They're done in only four panels and culminate with Linus word-ballooning (you guessed it) "That's the way it goes."

    This strip could have gone that route and been told in less than half the space (using just panels #4, #5, #8, and #9 [replacing C.B.'s last expression with a chagrimace, perhaps]). That's not what Schultz had in mind this time, though. We stay with Charlie Brown after the dust settles (literally). We witness a full spectrum of emotion, climaxing with seething rage, until he realizes that there's nothing he can do about it. And there's no point in rebuilding the sandcastle, because it's just going to happen again. So he silently returns home and climbs into bed. Assuming Charlie Brown set out to the sandbox during normal playtime hours for children, this means he either dwelled and obsessed over this incident over several hours between panels #12 and #13, or he just decided to call it a day at three in the afternoon. Either way, his whole day was ruined, and Schultz depicted the whole thing for our amusement.

    And it is hilarious, in the way Andy Kaufman and Adult Swim can be. I can't believe kids read this in the 50's.

    Sorry if I went on a rant there. First time poster, and long-time reader of this blog. This strip has really stuck with me over the years since I first read it in Complete Peanuts years ago. It made me happy that you decided to highlight it. Keep up the good work!