The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes, Part 4, Chapter 10: Bully

Part 4: Satan
Chapter 10: Bully

As most are aware, our English word “satan” comes from the Hebrew ha-Satan which is variously translated as "accuser” or “adversary.” The satanic, therefore, is that which functions as our moral opposition, the forces arrayed against The Good. Theologians and church-folk offer up a variety of notions as to what “satan” might be. Some think of satan as “Satan with capital S”, the personification of the ontological existence of Evil. By contrast others have suggested, such as liberation theologians, that “satan” is less a demonic Other than the misuse of power in human affairs. That is, the satanic Powers of the Age are less demonic than sociological, the politics and economies of oppression and injustice.

Where is satan in the world of Calvin and Hobbes? I’m going to suggest that satan resides in the power dynamics we find in Watterson’s world. Power differentials are what produces the violence in Calvin and Hobbes. Sometimes this violence is overt and physical. While in other cases the violence is diffuse and subtly dehumanizing. I’ll devote a chapter to each case.

The physical violence in Calvin and Hobbes takes its cue from the peer violence we observe in the world of Peanuts. Violence was common in Peanuts. Generally, it is Charlie Brown who absorbs both the physical and verbal violence.

As I’ve written about before, Charlie Brown functions as a kind of scapegoat in the world of Peanuts.

But there is an interesting contrast between Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. Charles Shultz was very intentional in Peanuts in allowing only the girls to hit the boys. Never in Peanuts did a boy hit a girl. As much as we want him to, Charlie Brown never hauls off and decks Lucy. For Schulz this power-reversal (girl hitting boy) kept the violence comedic. A boy hitting a girl wouldn’t be funny.

But this is dramatically changed in Calvin and Hobbes. The violence is very egalitarian. Sometimes Calvin gets Susie. And at other times Susie gets Calvin.

It is this egalitarian stance (tinged with the romantic overtones we noted in Chapter 6) that allows the Susie/Calvin violence to be comedic rather than tragic.

The true tragic side of violence in Calvin and Hobbes comes from the character of Mo, the school bully. Being large, Mo has power. And throughout the run of Calvin and Hobbes we observe Mo repeatedly hit the smaller, and weaker Calvin.

Mo, as an embodiment of brute power, is a menacing, satanic figure in the world of Calvin and Hobbes. The Mo strips clearly critique how mishandled power disrupts the world, infusing it with satanic menace. As such, the satan theology of Calvin and Hobbes closely fits notions of the satanic in liberation theology. The satanic is "man's inhumanity to man."

In short, in Calvin and Hobbes satan isn’t Satan. The satanic is, rather, us--you and me--and how we treat each other.

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