At some point in our lives, be it through a great deed or a small gesture of kindness, we have all felt what it is like to be kind to and united with one another. Be it at a bus stop giving up a seat, at a group mourning after a national tragedy or in the simple act of opening the door for another, we have all experienced unity through humanity for one another. Charlie Chaplin in his 1940 film “The Great Dictator” delivers a speech which calls out for universal brotherhood as well as a shift toward added humanity and action by the public. By focusing on the reality at hand and pointing out how humans wish to love rather than hate each other, Chaplin’s character calls for empathy and compassion from the peoples in a nation preparing for war.
After a series of unfortunate events and constant persecution of his character throughout the film, Chaplin who plays a Jewish barber, switches places with the “great” dictator of the nation of Tomania. The film alludes to Tomania as symbol for the real-life nation of Germany and to Osterlich as a stand in for modern day Austria. Though it is not referenced directly within his speech it should be noted that Osterlich was the nation Tomania was getting ready to attack. While assuming the position of an Adolf Hitler like character named Adenoid Hynkle, Chaplin begs the public to embrace their humanity, and to unite not as a nation in hate but as a unified people with beliefs based in kindness. The film places heavy satirical emphasis on the events preluding WWII and indirectly references people of significance that were in political positions at that time. Through an appeal to morality, humanity, and reason, the barber’s efforts ultimately result in the reversal of political policies Tomania had in place.
In his first speaking role, and in a lifesaving speech for the Jewish barber who is a doppelganger for Hynkle, Chaplin argues “The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way,” this being about the harsh reality that suddenly surrounded him, as well as the goodness that he believes still resides in every person. Chaplin proposes repeatedly throughout his speech that there is an innate sense of goodness and willingness to help one another present in the everyday man / woman. “You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure….The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – for universal brotherhood.” Continuously the Barber references different technologies and innovations claiming that the very nature of these inventions calls for a more united society. He goes on to address his belief that the abundance brought about by these things should lead us into a path of non-competition for resources which are much less scarce then than they were before, as well as the belief that time alone too, should give the people hope for their world.
While delivering the speech, Chaplin stares into the camera as if addressing the viewers individually and claims the world has become selfish, machine like and cold hearted, yet, also calls for drastic action and change. “Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!” While speaking directly to an audience of Tomanian citizens, considering the imminence of the breakout of a world war, Chaplin connects his speech with the idea of humans being used as machinery, being treated unfairly and being led into a war which goes against the very nature of every man, woman, and child. The barber continuously references the treatment of soldiers and connects their drills with imagery of machinery running. He also alludes to the idea of soldiers being led to the slaughterhouse by stating that “You are not cattle”, in telling his audience they are not cattle, he proposes the baseline idea that they were being treated as such.
Chaplin goes on to state “dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people… let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance, let us fight for a world of reason… let us all unite!” Here the barber makes his final call for the humanity he feels lies within the hearts of his audience. He calls for an end to the separation of peoples, an end for the greed within the hearts of man / woman, an end for hate but most notably an end for the intolerance and mistreatment of peoples whom have unjustly received it. After calling out the stark differences between the reality at hand and a possible free / beautiful life, the faux dictator whom risked his life in pursuit of a freer and more decent world, succeeds. The screen fades to with the final call to “unite!”
RAMPELL, ED. “CHARLIE CHAPLIN Hollywood’s Political Exile.” Progressive, vol. 80, no. 7, July 2016, pp. 40–44. EBSCOhost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=116370145&site=ehost-live.
Manea, Norman. “On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist.” Literary Review, vol. 35, no. 1, Fall 1991, pp. 5–25. EBSCOhost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9708300214&site=ehost-live.
Daub, Adrian. “‘Hannah, Can You Hear Me?’–Chaplin’s Great Dictator, ‘Schtonk,’ and the Vicissitudes of Voice.” Criticism, vol. 51, no. 3, Summer 2009, pp. 451–482. EBSCOhost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=52220122&site=ehost-live.
Vance, Jeffery. “The Great Dictator.” Film Preservation Board, 2018, http://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-film-preservation-board/documents/great_dictator.pdf.
Ebiri, Bilge. “The Interview Has Renewed Interest in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Which Is a Great Thing.” Vulture, 19 Dec. 2014, http://www.vulture.com/2014/12/charlie-chaplin-great-dictator-history.html.