Two men with bush mustaches have walked upon the face of earth, only to change the course of history for all eons to come. One rattled the world with the tremors of violence he created while the other made the masses rattle with laughter. Both these stellar personalities dominated the twentieth century space. Yes- I am talking about Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin. It’s beguiling how two individuals, bearing similar features of physicality, differ so vivaciously in their outlook.
Chaplin was born in the shackles of poverty in 1889. His onscreen persona of ‘the tramp’ borrows heavily from his humble beginnings. Exposed to the world of performing arts from a tender age of 14, Charlie found himself dwelling deeper into the fine nuances of comedy as time paced ahead. This is when he began to seek his aura as a comedian, as the ‘tramp’. Most of the roaring successes delivered by him, including modern times, the kid, city lights and gold rush, all featured the tramp. And since the audience was accustomed to the antics of the little tramp, they had certain expectations from the movie, leading to the formulation of a niche audience body. The already established character of the tramp allowed Chaplin to bring newer elements to the narrative, since the basic premise behind the character of the tramp was already known and understood by the audience, owing to the previous releases.
The tramp was also an intriguing character to look at. With Ill fitted clothes, baggy pants, comically large shoes creating an image of a social misfit, his too tiny a hat and the walking stick complete the ensemble, leading to an air of misappropriated aristocracy.
This blurring of the line between poverty and aristocracy encapsulated by the tramp paved way for a complex and confusing character. His appearance was that of a poverty ridden man, but his manners such as tipping of hat upon seeing a lady, reeked of sophistication. In the movie- The Gold Rush, the tramp is forced to consume a leathery shoe due to paucity of food. Even though this situation is molded by the state of poverty, the sophisticated use of knife and forks spells out aristocracy. This aura of anarchy was created to fulfill the motive of looks being deceptive, and poverty being circumstantial and independent of an individual’s personality. It was meant to point towards the obtuse interaction between the poor man’s world and the rich man’s world.
The tramp’s character was also a means to subvert the artificial construct of the social world. It called for a liberation from worldly ties. This radical image of the tramp, masks the acute state of deprivation behind the comical get up. The little tramp was aware of the societal constraints but chose to let go of the norms in order to make the full use of situations, as and when they came to him.