30: Donner

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Some people haven't heard of the Donner Party. They were pioneers who got stranded and likely resorted to cannibalism.
Title text: Some people haven't heard of the Donner Party. They were pioneers who got stranded and likely resorted to cannibalism.


It appears that in the early days of xkcd (and days when Wikipedia was not quite in the mainstream consciousness), Randall didn't trust people to understand his comics or his references; or else he didn't expect many people to read the title-text.

As the title-text says, the Donner party was a group of pioneers who set out west along a new route that was supposed to be easier to travel, but ultimately proved slow and treacherous. They became trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains and many died.

Low on food, it is believed that many of the pioneers resorted to cannibalism, eating the bodies of party members who had already died. In this one-frame comic, Donner party members arrive at Joe's (a restaurant, apparently) only to decide that they are full. The fact that the maitre d’ calls for a party of four and only three people are present suggests that they have eaten the fourth member of their party. Of course they are not in a survival situation in this strip, making cannibalism completely unnecessary.


[Three people stand in the foyer of a restaurant. A sign above the entryway reads "JOE'S" and there is a menu next to it. In front of the entryway, there's a host behind a podium. A sign on the podium reads "EAT IN".]
Host: Donner, party of four?
Man: Actually, never mind.
Woman: We're full.


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The indication is that they were waiting a long time for the table and decided to eat one of their companions. -- ‎ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

So you think that's why Kramer is missing from that episode? 01:20, 1 February 2014 (UTC)

Outside of the obvious pointed out by the previous user: the restaurant, Joe's, could be a reference to Tex Avery's Eat at Joe's. In one of the episodes, the customers were eaten by 'Joe'. The cannibalism scenario works out as well. Torappu (talk) 18:48, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

I feel that it may not have been intended by Randall, but a good pickup nonetheless. 01:20, 1 February 2014 (UTC)

I disagree with the original interpretation. The party of three was, I believe, more likely concerned by an additional, undepicted party, also waiting to eat at the establishment, and possibly fearing for their own safety from said cannibalism.--StrangerDanger (talk) 20:46, 27 June 2013 (UTC)

Clearly you are incorrect. 01:20, 1 February 2014 (UTC)

My interpretation - after reading the above explanation - is that the Donner was a party of four, who had preordered a table at Joe. But when these three arrived, they had just eaten the fourth person (as a snack before leaving home...?) And then they realized that they are not really hungry anymore - when Joe asks them in. Joe obviously knows they are the Donner - and they do not deny this. (I originally wrote this on 8 October - before I today signed up with a user account - thus this edit). Kynde (talk) 11:29, 13 October 2013 (UTC)

My first interpretation was that "Donner" in the comic is intended to be an alternate spelling of doner, and the comic might be a reference to the classic urban legend that the shadier kind of doners are supposedly made of meat from animals not otherwise normally eaten (typically cats). But that doesn't explain the apparently real existence of the Donner party. -- 15:34, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

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