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Charlie Chaplin and the "Little Tramp"

An  intermediate level English resource.

    Throughout the world, people recognise the figure of Charlie Chaplin, perhaps the  most famous Londoner in history.
Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin as the little Tramp, in "The Kid", a 1921 movie
Chaplin‘s Little Tramp is one of the most  recognized fictional figures ever created. The Tramp made his last appearance  in a film nearly a hundred years ago,  yet he is still instantly recognized and  loved in almost every corner of the world.  Fellini called him "a sort of Adam from  whom we are all descended."
    For several generations in the first  half of the twentieth century — for  artists, intellectuals, and for popular audiences across the world, — Chaplin was the symbol of the little man and the oppressed masses. It was significant that he was the one to challenge the  German Kaiser, to challenge Hitler, to challenge urbanism and automation, to challenge intolerance and cruelty and hypocrisy.  He even challenged McCarthyism*.
    In 1980, when the film-makers of Poland wanted a symbol for their assertion of human liberty, they found it  natural to choose the figure of the Tramp.

    But who was Charlie Chaplin, and where did he come from?  He was born on April 16th 1889, and as a child he grew up in the poor East End  of London. It was a hard place to live in, and Charlie's family was poor, indeed very poor. But Charlie was a determined child, who had the courage to defy poverty and difficulties that would  have ended many young lives. It took  more courage, later, for him to give up growing success and a guaranteed income of £50 per week in vaudeville, and go for the unknown new world of the "movies".
   This happened in 1913. Charlie was in New York at the time with an English troupe,  playing in vaudeville.  He was invited to go to Hollywood and take part in some movies. The movie industry in Hollywood was very new, and Charlie had no guarantee of success. But he had courage, and he went, in spite of the risks.
   It was a good move !  By 1914, he was established as one of Hollywood's most successful stars, and was earning $1,250 a week, making him a rich man!  It was in 1915 that he first appeared in his most famous role, as the tramp.
   Although Charlie Chaplin became very rich, he never forgot his poor childhood; and money was not the most important thing in his life. He loved the USA, but he could see that it was not perfect., and he was ready to say so. Going against commercial caution, he questioned the symbolism of the Statue  of Liberty in The Immigrant; then he offended American foreign policy with The Great Dictator, and later he ridiculed McCarthyist America at a time when no other film-maker dared to do so.
  For this he paid the price, as in 1952, while he as travelling to England for a film première, the FBI warned him that he would be arrested if he came back to the USA. He was one of the high-profile victims of the McCarthyist "witch hunts". He did not return to the USA again until 1972, when he received an honorary Oscar.
   Despite all, he remained to the end,  in the words of René Clair, " a monument  to the cinema of all countries and all  times." 

* McCarthyism : From  U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the 1950s, McCarthy, a right-wing Republican, encouraged Americans to denounce people that they believed to be "communists". Thousands of journalists, artists and cinema people were accused of being "communists", and had to stop working. Very few of them really communists, they were just people who did not share McCarthy's right-wing ideology. No proof was needed before a person was labelled a "communist", and Chaplin was never a member of any communist movement.

Word guide
tramp: vagabond -  fictional - invented - we are descended:  we come - popular audiences: ordinary  people - to challenge: to speak openly  against - urbanism : the growth of cities -  intolerance: bigotry, refusing to  listen to other opinions - assertion:  declaration - to defy: to fight against -  give up: abandon - troupe : theatre, group of actors - income: money - vaudeville : a type of live theatre -   commercial caution: fear of losing  money - warn : tell,  alert - remained: continued - denounce: report, inform about .

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Student Worksheet

Charlie Chaplin and the Little Tramp

Here are the answers to some questions. Make up appropriate questions to fit them.
1. On April 16th 1889, in London.
2. Nearly 100 years ago.
3. Because he symbolized the little man.
4. All sorts of things, from Hitler to hypocrisy.
5. Because the industry was very new.
6. $1,250 a week !.
7. No, it wasn't. .
8. When he was over 60.
9, The United States.
10. René Clair.

Vocabulary :

Find words in the text that belong to the same family of words as each of the following  :

To appear  



to succeed  1.


to immigrate


How many words can you find in the article that end in -ist ?  Do you know any other words that end in -ist ?

This teaching resource is © copyright Linguapress .
Fully revised and extended 2021 . Originally published in Freeway, the Intermediate level English newsmagazine.
Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised

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Level - Intermediate.
IELTS Level :  5 - 6
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Grade level: 8.4
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