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The Art of SurvivalFrance and the Great War Picaresque$
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Libby Murphy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300217513

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300217513.001.0001

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Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp

Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp

From the Art of Survival to the Survival of Art

(p.198) 8. Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp
The Art of Survival

Libby Murphy

Yale University Press

This chapter recontextualizes the most important picaresque character of the twentieth century: Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. In the wartime picaresque, unheroic, everyday soldiers are either ground up by the infernal machine of the war or they serve as monkey wrenches that temporarily stop the gears of the machine. Long before The Great Dictator, Chaplin disrupted the destruction of war by sending his “little fellow” to the front lines in Shoulder Arms (1918). Charlot, as the French called him, is skilled in the arts of Le Système D. His resourcefulness, joviality, and expertise in bricolage were traits French critics admired in Charlot and to which they pointed in their efforts to nationalize him. The Little Tramp resembles a long line of heroes “in spite of themselves” who never fail to do their duty, even as they try their best to save their precious hides. The Tramp as reluctant infantryman in Shoulder Arms celebrates life and asserts his limited personal freedom through the tremendous vitality of his gags. In Chaplin’s films the picaresque arts of survival are depicted at their most whimsical and creative, suggesting a re-enchantment of the war-weary modern world through the new medium of cinema.

Keywords:   Charlie Chaplin, Charlot, The Little Tramp, Shoulder Arms, wartime cinema, reception of Chaplin, Little Tramp as picaro

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