Home > Uncategorized > On sincerity and the Great Pumpkin

On sincerity and the Great Pumpkin

I’ve just read the following Peanuts strip and it sparked a thought:


The strip is part of a series involving Linus’s obsession with the Great Pumpkin.  I’m sure everyone knows about this, but to sum up, in Linus’s heterodox belief, the Great Pumpkin is the Halloween equivalent of Santa Claus, giving presents to children at Halloween.  In this strip, we see Linus carefully preparing his pumpkin patch and explaining to Charlie Brown that “[e]ach year the ‘Great Pumpkin’ rises out of the pumpkin patch which he regards as the most sincere.”  Linus asks Charlie Brown whether his pumpkin patch is sincere enough, and Chuck gives an encouraging but not particularly sincere reply.  Of course, we longtime readers know that, like Charlie Brown’s quest to kick the football or win a baseball game, or just about any other personal quest in Peanuts, Linus’s desire is doomed to remain unfulfilled.  Of course, most would say this is because the Great Pumpkin is merely a figment of Linus’s imagination.

But it occurs to me that even by the rules of his own delusion, Linus is condemning himself to failure.  Consider: what defines a “sincere” pumpkin patch?  Presumably it means a pumpkin patch that’s cultivated for no other reason than the cultivation of pumpkins — one whose nominal function is its only function.  But if Linus is cultivating his pumpkin patch not merely for the pumpkins themselves, but as a means to the end of luring the Great Pumpkin, then he has an ulterior motive and his patch can never be truly sincere.  So by the very act of trying to attract the Great Pumpkin, Linus is ensuring that he never will.  But he’s so obsessed with his quest that he can’t see the self-defeating contradiction in his own premise.

As with a lot of things about Peanuts, I think maybe that says something philosophically significant.  Something about the difference between trying to look righteous and pious in pursuit of personal favor and genuinely practicing a moral, spiritual life without any thought of personal gain.  Of course it could have secular applications as well, but Linus is a pretty spiritual character so it’s easy to look at it in those terms.  Although Linus usually seems to be one of the savvier, wiser characters in the strip, so it’s a bit odd to see him on the self-deluded side of a spiritual allegory here.  Unless I’m reading too much into it.

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  1. Bill-o
    October 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    You are reading too much into it!!!!! 🙂

  2. October 16, 2014 at 12:16 am

    What Bill said ^

  3. Flupke
    September 16, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Yes. You are presuming that nominal function is the sincerest function. We have no idea what Linus himself believes makes for a sincere pumpkin patch. A patch grown to welcome the GP could be grown with earnestness and sincerity. Linus’s failure is not his patch’s lack of sincerity but his own lack of faith: when he slips and says “if the GP comes” instead of saying “when the GP comes.”

  4. Muff Daddy
    July 22, 2018 at 10:51 pm

    Wrong! The Great Pumpkin is Jesus. Surprised you didn’t know that. On the thirty-first day he rose again and ascended into heaven.

  5. November 26, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    I’m just finding this post three years later. It’s great, and I *don’t* think you’re reading too much into it. Of course, partly “sincere” is just funny — and it’s very Linus-like that he chose that rather than things like “biggest” or “nicest” that most of us would choose. On the other hand, the greatest sign of Linus’s sincerity is that (if I remember the Schulz canon correctly) he *stays home from trick or treating every year* to await the Great Pumpkin. In my world, that flips it from “self-interested” to “very sincere.”

    You’re right that nobody in the Peanuts world wins in the end, and that does make it all the more poignant. Anyone but Schulz, that reliable Minnesota Lutheran, would have softened somewhere along the line.

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