Chaplinesque Analysis
by Hart Crane

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Chaplinesque Analysis

This poem relies heavily on allusion—indirect references to another text, character, or setting—in order to poignantly affect the reader's feelings and to make a point. The title refers to a British silent movie era actor named Charlie Chaplin. His most famous role was that of "The Tramp" or "the little tramp," a homeless man who acts like a high-born gentleman. The discrepancy between his very low social status and his upper-class manners creates a humorous irony. The Tramp is a lovable character, with his baggy clothes, bendy cane, and big heart. The title of the poem seems to suggest that there is an entire class of people who are Chaplinesque in terms of their similarity to this character: society's outcasts who must make their own way in a community that is judgmental of them and hostile to them. The Tramp's clothes are too baggy in places and he is rather hapless, but he possesses an innocence that those people who are more materialistic and mainstream lack.

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The Chaplinesque people are the ones who can find a "grail of laughter" in an empty garbage can or some other mundane and everyday object. They do not value something based on how much money it is worth or how much it might benefit them; they value the "random consolations" they find, the things that accidentally make them happy. They also value their hearts and their humanity, and—no matter what else is going on around them, no matter what they or other people are doing—they can always hear the "kitten in the wilderness." Though they have been shown so little love or appreciation, they know how to "love the world" and the starving kitten anyway, just as the Tramp does. With the poem's multiple allusions to Chaplin's most famous character, the poet succeeds in borrowing the comedy and pathos of the Tramp and impressing upon readers the beauty and poignancy of such a life and such a person.

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Hart Crane’s “Chaplinesque” is a poem in five stanzas, the first two containing four lines each, the last three with five lines each. The title introduces the central metaphor of the poem, the film actor and comedian Charlie Chaplin. The poem is a striking dramatization of the tenuous position in modern society of those who are, for whatever reason, excluded from the establishment. The persona, the “we” of the poem, represents all outsiders, not only poets and other artists—although they are central to Crane’s vision—but also all sensitive and feeling people who do not fit into the structured society. Although Crane sees the human condition as rather bleak and tragic, he finds brief but welcome consolation in elements of everyday life as well as in kindness, imagination, and humor.

The first stanza states in simple terms what compromises (“meek adjustments”) human beings must make in order to survive in a hostile environment. The world Crane portrays is naturalistic, materialistic, judgmental, and insensitive to the feeling, caring person. No matter what one’s expectations, he or she must learn to be satisfied with whatever occasional benefits are supplied, unexpectedly and without rational pattern, by nature or fate.

Both stanza 1 and stanza 2 refer to Charlie Chaplin in his most famous role, that of the “Little Tramp” in his baggy and tattered costume. In the first stanza, Crane describes the large pockets of the tramp’s trousers and the oversize elbows of his sleeves. In both stanzas, the “random consolations” derive from the simple, even homely pleasures that come to one unexpectedly, for example, the starving kitten on the doorstep as in need of love as is the poet or, indeed, any other person.

The third stanza describes the tactics necessary for the outsider who wishes to survive against society’s hostility. Crane’s distrust of business and of businessmen is represented by the traditional gesture of a rather frightening figure counting money between thumb and index finger. The stanza also refers obliquely to the inevitability of death and...

(The entire section is 1,408 words.)