Themes

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Last Updated on March 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340

Social Outcasts

One concept in this poem is that there will always be social outcasts who are not accepted by the majority of society. These individuals, including the speaker of the poem, make "meek adjustments" in order to try to get by and to survive in a society that is...

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Social Outcasts

One concept in this poem is that there will always be social outcasts who are not accepted by the majority of society. These individuals, including the speaker of the poem, make "meek adjustments" in order to try to get by and to survive in a society that is often hostile to them, and they feel gratified by their "random consolations"—small moments of happiness granted to them, it seems, by accident and not design. The speaker discusses not only the lives of these outcasts, but their deaths as well, and his description of their feelings, lives, and deaths seems to imply that they will always exist, and they will continue to be the people who most listen to their own hearts.

Love and Humanity

It is always possible to retain one's humanity. The outcasts, who must survive on moments of accidental happiness from the world, still manage to love it. When individuals like this find a starving kitten on the street, they have the heart to take it up and treat it with care and concern (a care and concern that they are not really shown by anyone else). Though they will not profit financially from this action, they do it anyways, because they can "evade . . . all else but the heart." They are compelled to do as their loving hearts direct them. They have retained their humanity even when they have little else.

Materialism

The poem makes it clear that the wider world is largely an unhappy and materialistic place. The speaker describes the "inevitable thumb / That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us," describing some apparently powerful person counting out their money—the currency which rules the world. These people bent on material gain lack the innocence of people like the little Tramp, and so they cannot find the "grail of laughter" in everyday objects like the outcasts can. They only care about money, and so they are unhappy and unfeeling. The speaker seems to imply that these people, who do not follow their hearts, are living a lesser life.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450

“Chaplinesque” is in many ways Crane’s most personal poem, in which he presents a cogent statement of the plight of the poet in modern society. As such, it is one of his major works, for here he combines his fascination with the craft of poetry with distinctive American aspects, with popular culture, and with his own life. Crane’s use of intensely personal elements places him in the tradition established by Walt Whitman, whose best-known poem was entitled “Song of Myself.” Indeed, Crane was the “most American” poet since Whitman, and he wrote in much the same vein, using American images—the Brooklyn Bridge, the elevated train, motion pictures—although in a quite original way.

Crane admired the contemporary American poet who influenced him most, T. S. Eliot, but he rejected Eliot’s belief that poetry should be a vehicle not for displaying personal emotions but for freeing oneself from them. The ash can that is transformed into a “grail of laughter” in the final stanza of “Chaplinesque” is an allusion to Eliot’s most famous work, “The Waste Land” (1922), in which the search for the Holy Grail figures as a major symbol. However, Eliot’s philosophy of impersonality ran contrary to Crane’s belief that the American poet should employ his own personal vision of the American experience to create a new kind of art, and that emotion was of the essence.

There are decidedly individual references in “Chaplinesque”—the kitten Crane himself had adopted and the pun on his own name in the line “the heart lives on”—but more important, the personal elements of the poem center around the fact that Crane always felt in his maturity separated from the mainstream of American life. First of all, as a poet, he did not fit into the corporate system represented by his father, the owner of a candy factory. Not long before the composition of “Chaplinesque,” Crane had become permanently estranged from his father, a condition that provided the poet with yet another sense of being among outsiders. Second, in an era in which his homosexuality was not only considered immoral but was also a crime punishable by imprisonment, Crane felt even further alienated from the majority. By extension, however, it should be noted that although Crane is directly concerned with poets and other outcasts, in a sense he sees all human beings as hapless victims of a naturalistic universe, a political and social world, and a fate over which most of them finally have no control. The motif of exclusion and the suffering of the poet and others would ultimately blossom again in the works of the playwright Tennessee Williams, Hart Crane’s most devoted disciple.

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