A family friend was involved in a local production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown", so because I am all sophisticated and crap, today the family and I attended a showing of the play.
The show was light and fun, essentially being a for-the-stage compilation of many of the best Peanuts comic strips. During intermission our friend came out from backstage to speak with us. After we let him know that we had been enjoying the performance he was a little relieved. He had been having some anxiety that current audiences might not be familiar with the classic Peanuts world.
"A couple Peanuts cartoons have been made since Charles Schultz died, and some of them even showed the Little Red Haired girl! They've ruined the symbolism of that character?!" he exclaimed.
I barked out some laughter, clearly demonstrating that I also mocked the modern symbolism-free interpretation of this comic.
Later, as I sat watching the second act, I thought to myself, "Symbolism?".
You see, I am what I refer to as a Literalist. If, for example, you say to me, "Yeah, I'll be by in a couple minutes." then I will be stationed by the front door in exactly 120 seconds, beginning to wonder why you did not just say "2.1 minutes" seeing as how that's what you apparently meant.
Similarly, I watch movies and read books for plot. I recently finished the book, "The Rule of Four". After I completed it, I reread the dust jacket and was astonished to read phrases like, "...profoundly erudite" and "....an exceptional piece of scholarship". Apparently all that stuff went right over my head because the book I read was a pretty straightforward story of four college friends solving a mystery.
Symbolism always eluded me in English class. I can recall my high school English teacher, Mr. Friss, lecturing about the symbolism behind Daisy Buchanan's* name in "The Great Gatsby". He explained that a daisy was white like purity on the outside, and yellow like greed and fear on the inside. I marvelled at this analysis, knowing that I would never be able to come to such conclusions on my own. I was unable to separate the wheat from the chaff. What else was significant in the book? Was "Buchanan" significant? The first letter was a "B" and bees can sting, and the second letter was a "U", as in you. Were we to fear Daisy's venom? (The grade on my subsequent essay answered that question. No.)
I was not good at this analysis in high school and I'm still not. I recently tried to read some poetry written by an acquaintance of mine who is a professional and accomplished poet. I was left completely befuddled by his uber-modern poems, wondering how to extract plot out of his verse. Which one of his adverbs was a protagonist? Was it "antidisestablishmentarianismly"? Baffling.
So, let it suffice to say that if there's subtext and symbolism in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown", I didn't get it.
There were lots of kids in the audience, including my very own Daisy (whose moniker should NOT be analyzed via the Friss methodology). They all enjoyed the lowbrow humor. When Linus sucked his finger with increasing panic, and then screamed, "I'm losing my flavor!" , the five year old behind me just busted up. He repeated the phrase to his row-mates a half dozen times.
Later, when Linus warned the audience to never suck their thumbs while chewing gum, my daughter laughed heartily. "You'll bite your thumb!" she acknowledged to us, knowingly.
I laughed at all those jokes too. Screw symbolism.
* I may be mis-remembering which Daisy we analyzed in that class. Perhaps it was "Daisy Miller".