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The real meaning behind Charles Schulz’s Woodstock character.


Charles Schulz – not a hippie

Charles Schulz, the creator of the beloved comic strip “Peanuts,” was actually quite different from the hippies of his time. However, he chose to name the lovable yellow bird character in “Peanuts” Woodstock after the famous counterculture music festival. This festival was celebrated and attended by many young people who grew up in the 60s and 70s, including those who identified as hippies.

Why did Charles Schulz name his cute little bird “Woodstock”?

The question remains: why did Schulz choose to name the character after the festival? According to Michelle Ann Abate, author of the new book Blockheads, Beagles, and Sweet Babboos: New Perspectives on Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts, she believes that Woodstock can be seen to represent the young people of the time in a positive and encouraging way.

Abate’s critical analysis of the strips featuring Woodstock shows that Schulz held a different view from others of his generation, who often criticized and sometimes reviled the Woodstock generation. Abate, a professor of literature for children and young adults at The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology, suggests that Schulz’s portrayal of Woodstock reflects his positive view of young people during that time.

“Charles Schulz saw the young people of the time in a different light than many other people of his generation. I believe you can view the character Woodstock as his critique of how young people were judged by adults of the time.”

The history of Woodstock (the bird)

The little yellow bird made its first appearance in “Peanuts” during the 1960s, but it wasn’t until June 22, 1970, that it was given the name Woodstock. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts,” has acknowledged that he named the character after the music festival, but he was a bit cryptic about his reasoning behind the name. Nonetheless, Abate believes that Woodstock was intended to represent the young adults of that era. In fact, Snoopy even referred to Woodstock as “a bird hippie” in several strips. Additionally, Schulz depicted Woodstock in a way that was telling of this “bird hippie” persona.

Abate writes in the book,

“Of all the characters in ‘Peanuts,’ Woodstock is arguably the kindest, sweetest and most unassuming. The little bird is presented as innocently childlike, not immaturely childish. Both in his relationship with Snoopy and his interactions with other characters, Woodstock is good, kind, gentle, sweet and caring.”

Those weird and wacky Peanuts characters

It’s interesting to note that Woodstock may have represented the younger generation of the time based on how he communicated in the strip. His speech was shown as “chicken scratch” and only Snoopy could understand him. Abate pointed out that older generations often complain about not being able to understand younger people and how they “speak a different language”. In “Peanuts”, this was literally true for Woodstock. It’s worth mentioning that Snoopy was the only character who could understand him. It’s also worth noting that Snoopy refers to himself as “groovy” in the strip.

“Snoopy is a very sympathetic character in ‘Peanuts’ and is able to blur the lines between animals and humans, between different generations and different mindsets.”

The bond between Snoopy and Woodstock was strong even before Woodstock had a name

Back in 1964, Schulz shared a series of strips where the little yellow bird and his feathered friends participated in a series of demonstrations. Although it’s not clear what they were protesting, their signs simply show punctuation marks or symbols. After two weeks of weekday strips, Snoopy declares that he always supports the “underbird.”

Schulz had a big heart for the underdogs and their battles, including the youth. When “Peanuts” debuted in 1950, it portrayed the struggles of young people growing up during that era, which differed greatly from the challenges faced by those growing up in the 1960s and ’70s. Abate suggested that Charlie Brown and his pals could be labeled as the “serious-minded kids,” while the Woodstock Generation were frequently referred to as the “flower children.”

“In the ’50s, Schulz was presenting kids as being depressed, being anxious, being philosophical, being anything but carefree and innocent. Initially, it was radical to suggest that young people weren’t all cute and innocent.  And then by the ’70s it became radical to say they were.”

But in both cases, “Peanuts” challenges mainstream beliefs about youth and youth culture, she said.  Woodstock played a big role in that after he was introduced.

“In the same way that the hippie movement was short-lived but enjoyed a long legacy, Schulz’s bird was physically small but had a big thematic impact … He changed one of the core messages in ‘Peanuts’.”

“‘Peanuts’ has really kept a foothold in popular culture, even 20 years or so after Schulz’s death,” Abate said.

“And more than that, it still is relevant. It is hard to imagine there is a cartoonist working today who has not been influenced in some way by Schulz and his work.”

Did you know?

At one point, Snoopy tries to identify what type of bird Woodstock is by asking him to imitate various birds from a field guide. These include the hawked crow, the Bittering bittern, the Warring wren, the rufous-sided roufax, the looney cuckoo bird, the Ducky goose, the warble warble, and the morning warbler. After failing to identify Woodstock, Snoopy apologizes and hugs him while Woodstock cries.

Despite being a bird, Woodstock is not a good flyer, which may be due to his small wings or because Snoopy had to teach him to fly after his mother abandoned him. He flits around erratically, often upside down, and crashes into things. Woodstock’s bird friends are also poor flyers, as they are the same species. Once, Woodstock and his friends wanted to hike to the summit of “Point Lobos”. Lucy laughs at them, but they persist in their goal despite their inability to fly there.

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