Hey Arnold was one of my favorite cartoons when I was a kid thanks to the show's deep and often hard-hitting storylines that didn't patronize young people, but it seems like some of the themes the Nickelodeon classic dealt with might be even more adult than my young mind was able to fathom.
Perceptive (and perhaps slightly morbid) Reddit user PeppermintButthole has proposed a really interesting fan theory about the symbolism of Pigeon Man's exit that totally chimes with the poignant tone of the scene (which for all you literacy nerds, was based on Tom Joad's final speech in 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck).
The theory proposes that when Pigeon Man was lifted into the distance by his flock, it was actually a metaphor for suicide, or a false memory that Arnold had created to escape the trauma of the event.
Check out the breakdown of the clip below to see what PeppermintButthole was getting at:
"You see Arnold, it's time for me to leave here"
After Pigeon Man discovers that his lovingly tended bird haven had been destroyed by vandals, the downtrodden man mused about how "some people are meant to be with people, and others, like me, are just different."
"You've taught me that some people can be trusted, and I'll never forget that"
Although Arnold is concerned that he inadvertently caused the rooftop pigeon paradise to be destroyed, Pigeon Man reassures him in a way that very much sounds like goodbye forever. He also alludes to going "somewhere I can live in peace with my friends" and describes what is clearly the compassionate pigeon fanciers vision of heaven.
"I just hope there's another Arnold where I go next"
Pigeon Man (whose lesser known real name is Vincent Schiavelli) also hopes that there will be more kind, compassionate souls like Arnold in the place where he moves on to.
PeppermintButthole then speculates that when Pigeon Man is carried into the sunset by pigeons, this is actually a false memory created by Arnold to get over the trauma of seeing the misunderstood loner jumping off the building right in front of him.
Check out the full clip below and see what you think of the symbolism of Pigeon Man's exit.
Hey Arnold was peppered with homages to adult themes such as the horrors of war (in the "Longest Monday"), mental illness (when Helga goes to the psychiatrist), and Alcoholism (Helga and Olga's 'smoothie' drinking mother), so it wouldn't surprise me if the writers also tried to educate youngsters on how prejudice and ignorance can have a huge toll on innocent people's lives.
Do you think Pigeon Man killed himself?