Almost 50 years after it first aired, the 1966 Halloween classic, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, remains popular. Despite the simple plot and rudimentary animation, it gets higher television ratings than more sophisticated shows. One reason for this could be its insights into human behavior and the nature of belief.
The plot is straightforward. Linus believes in a Great Pumpkin, a Santa Claus like figure who rises up from the most sincere pumpkin patch on Halloween to drop toys to faithful believers. The rest of the Snoopy gang mock and insult him. Even little Sally, who adores Linus, abandons him after waiting in vain for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. The show ends with Linus working through his disappointment and vehemently asserting his belief.
The cartoon touches on a lot of themes; one is the relationship between belief and doubt. In “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, belief and doubt are bedfellows, existing in relationship, not in opposition, to one another.
Linus holds fast to his belief in the Great Pumpkin despite the overwhelming evidence that refutes its existence, and the crushing disappointment he experiences annually when the Great Pumpkin fails to appear. Yet, Linus moves back and forth between certainty and uncertainty as he struggles to overcome the doubt that threatens his belief every Halloween.
Linus is not alone in the struggle to reconcile belief and doubt. From doubting Thomas in the first century to Pope Francis today, theologians have always recognized the presence of doubt and its importance to the spiritual life.
The cartoon also uses the actions of its child characters to subtly probe the foibles of adult behavior.
There is the example of Sally, who blames Linus for her decision to join him in the pumpkin patch. Angry and disappointed because she missed the fun of Halloween, she threatens to sue Linus, shouting at him, “You owe me restitution.” While her reaction is comical given her tender age, it pokes fun at the adult world. We might recognize in Sally’s anger our own desire to get even (through the courts if necessary), and our reluctance to consider the ways in which we may have contributed to a problem.
Linus and Charlie Brown, like Sally, have great expectations that quite literally fail to materialize. Linus comes away empty handed from the pumpkin patch, and Charlie Brown ends the night with a bag of rocks instead of candy. In their disappointment, we might recognize our own when our actions fail to produce the desired results. We do not always get what we want or think we deserve.
And in the bag of rocks, we might recognize the pain of rejection. Perhaps we were not bullied, as Lucy bullies Charlie Brown, but at some point, each of us has carried that bag of rocks.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” holds a mirror up to human nature. This may explain, in part, its enduring appeal despite its straightforward story and rudimentary animation in an age of superior technology and elaborate story lines.
Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .