Lucy Van Pelt
I remember being quite upset as a child over Lucy asking Charlie Brown if he wanted to kick the football, only to pull it away at the last minute. He’d go flying and land on his back and she would typically admonish him for being such a sucker.
“Fuck Lucy and double fuck Charlie Brown for being such a sap” I remember saying to myself and anyone who would listen.
Now as an adult I understand it’s much more complicated than that. There were subtleties at play.
You could certainly make the case that Lucy’s sadistic actions are driven by pure unadulterated malice and richly deserving of my initial analysis, vis-à-vis “Fuck Lucy.”
But as you get older and accumulate insights into psychology and human motivations, you can conceive other scenarios in which Lucy is a much more sympathetic figure.
Perhaps when she makes the offer, Lucy actually wants to hold the ball and let Charlie Brown show his kicking prowess, whether it’s because she is curious as to how far he can kick it or simply because she finds him endearing on some level and would like to do something nice for him to further their relationship. In fact, maybe she longs to have the courage to allow it to happen.
So why then would she keep pulling it away?
That’s the question now isn’t it? (do you put a ? at the end of a rhetorical sentence?)(which if you know the answer becomes a rhetorical question)
Is it for the same reason I can type only Lucy’s first name with no regard to her Van Pelt, but always have to add the Brown after Charlie? i.e. I don’t know exactly why but rest assured there’s some powerful reason. He’s not Charlie, he’s Charlie Brown. His sister Sally is not accorded such treatment, I can Sally all day without the least bit of concern for adding Brown.
As she kneels down to hold the football and sees him approaching perhaps she is filled with a vague and inexplicable resentment or maybe it’s some subconscious attraction that scares her. If you remember how he ran at the ball, it was balls out. Committed, dare I say virile, like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and completely putting his trust in her continuing to hold the ball throughout the process.
She knew there was no going back if she allowed him to kick it. Maybe some childhood trauma doesn’t allow her to follow through?
Lucy herself has offered a myriad of justifications over the years for snatching defeat from the jaws of his victory: physiological (1966: a “ten-billion-to-one” muscle spasm), Ecclesiastical (1980: “To everything there is a season … and a time to pull away the football”), psychological (1975: “I’m not your mother, Charlie Brown”), sociological (1971: “This year’s football was pulled away from you through the courtesy of women’s lib”), and philosophical (1974: “In every program, Charlie Brown, there are always a few last-minute changes”). In a meta-moment, Lucy even points to the larger meaning of this act: “Symbolism, Charlie Brown! The ball! The desire! The triumph! It’s all there!” (1996). This echoes a dialogue they had 10 years earlier (Charlie Brown: “Somehow, I’ve missed the symbolism.” Lucy: “You also missed the ball, Charlie Brown”). Additionly, Lucy’s quips have sometimes had the biting, sardonic twinge of someone who is not just out for fun, but for revenge. 1961: “Don’t you trust anyone anymore?” 1963: “A woman’s handshake is not legally binding.” 1969: “Never listen to a woman’s tears, Charlie Brown.” And, in a darker strip from 1970, Lucy recites and interprets a long, withering passage from Isaiah: “How long will you fail at this? ALL YOUR LIFE, Charlie Brown, all your life!” And then, of course, there have been moments of light; from the wistful (1986: “You look forward all year to a special moment, and before you know it, it’s over”) to the inspirational (1989: “Think how the years go by, Charlie Brown … think of the regrets you’ll have if you never risk anything …”). **
And what about Charlie Brown?
Was he truly just young and naïve? Wanting to kick the ball so badly that he ignored all of the warning signs and the history of this little dance that they were engaged in? Or was he willfully ignorant, the enabler, the patsy, hoping against hope that this time would be different?
There is also the possibility that Charlie Brown was just a masochist and enjoyed flying in the air and landing hard on the ground.
I tend to discard the last option as his angst at seeing her pull the target away at the very last second seemed sincere. In fact the “AAUGH!” he emits as he realizes he has once again been tricked might be the most existential cartoon moment ever to appear in the funny pages. And let me tell you from experience, you can’t fake an “AAUGH!.” Hanging in the air for a brief moment, the die hard romantic, suspended and internalizing the cruel 4-way intersection of desire, humiliation, hope and loss. There were times that when I read the strip I actually felt an ache in my chest.
So now that I am a grown man, what do I make of this seemingly-toxic relationship? “Fuck Lucy” I guess, “and… well, you’re not a particularly good man, Charlie Brown.”
Certainly no William Wallace.
* When asked why he never let Charlie kick the football, Charles Schulz famously replied, “You can’t create humor out of happiness.“
** This snippet copied from a Slate article on the same topic.