I'm back from San Francisco with a backlog of ready-to-read posts that need only be written. The first is inspired by the afternoon I spent at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California. As I wandered its halls and read its walls, I remembered Catherine Jurca's article on Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. (A version of this article appears as the fifth chapter of her excellent White Diaspora.) According to Jurca, Sloan's novel about the money problems plaguing a recently returned WWII veteran "legitimates a contradictory truth for the [professional-managerial class]: its anxiety and unhappiness are inevitable components of its professional and economic well-being" (90). This anxiety, Jurca argues, "is crucial to the achievement and preservation of middle-class economic and social privileges" (92). While she convincingly argues her point, she shortchanges what I take to be Sloan's: namely, that the constellation of symptoms Jurca believes the "the sanctimonious suburbanite" in the 1950s exhibits is the product of the protagonist, Tom Rath, being a veteran of the Second World War. Rath's hostility to the empty conventions of suburban life manifests most saliently during those moments in which he compares (often unwittingly) the vividness of his time as a soldier with the routine of time as a cog. He resists the Great Machine only because his wartime experiences have tempered his soul; commonplace life becomes unbearable because there was a time when life was not commonplace but meaningful. (Jurca is certainly correct in her contention that there's more happening in the novel than what I've sketched out here. Contrary to popular opinion, I often openly admire the work of other scholars. Consider this one of those occasions.) What does this have to do with the afternoon I spent wandering the halls and reading the walls of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center?
Schulz, like Rath, was also a veteran of WWII. (Were I allowed to take pictures inside the museum I'd festoon this paragraph with the sketches which accompanied his letters from the front. Brilliant satires of military life encapsulated in the space of an envelope.) He returned from war and created a world-famous comic strip about a boy who suffered from clinical depression not necessarily because of his constitution but because of the forces militating against him. Lucy pulls the football. Snoopy torments him. The entire world, in fact, works to make Charlie Brown's life more difficult than it needs to be. Unlike the eponymous Everett True, whose outbursts are the guff of legend, Charlie Brown never throttles Lucy for pulling for the football or throws Snoopy from a train for tormenting him. He yells "Good Grief!" with the resignation of a war veteran who long ago acquiesced to the unfair demands of the world. In short, my argument-by-suggestion is that Sloan's portrayal of a man whose wartime experience emptied civilian life of meaning applies equally to Charlie Brown (and perhaps Charles Schulz, although that would be a far more sweeping claim).