The Great Satirical Speech
Considered among the best movie speeches since the conception of Cinema, Charlie Chaplin’s final speech in “The Great Dictator” is a powerful address that seeks to provide a counter to the rising tide of militarism, fascism, and antisemitism that was at its peak during the films original release of 1940. The speech can be found here for reference: https://youtu.be/J7GY1Xg6X20.
The Rhetorical Situation
Charlie Chaplin, a superstar among the silent film industry, wrote and produced this film that satirized the contemporary global political landscape. The film premiered in 1940 to great acclaim. However, the speech at the end was criticized for being overtly political but modern viewership has latched onto it as a culturally significant and powerful speech that holds relevance into the 21st century.
Demographically the speech is meant for any viewer as Chaplin only distinguishes the common man from the dictators, the greedy, and fascists. The irony is that while the speech is given Chaplin is dressed as a character that directly parodies Adolf Hitler and even stands up on a pulpit to deliver the speech. But the framing of the shot focuses nearly solely on Chaplin and his face without any stress put on the setting which aides the speeches global message.
Chaplin opens his speech with the central ideological tennant of peace on Earth and goodwill to all. He offers no inartistic proofs, this speech being solely an emotional appeal to the audience. The use of vivid dialogue to induce mental imagery and the contrast of the language he uses to compare the goodness of people to the cold machinery of violence. This pure emotional approach does limit his effectiveness as the orator but the delivery is so impactful it generally makes up for it.
The arrangement starts by equalizing everyone in his speech. He brings everyone up to the same level both engaging the audience and also supporting his central thesis of all men are good and equal. This transitions into what he is viewing as wrong with the current world, that being the greed of those in charge despite the technology existing to leave no one in want. This is strengthened by a sort of A then B style he uses to state what is wrong with what is “correct. A solid paragraph is constructed like instead of X we need Y. This lays out his overall philosophy and generally, no one finds its disagreeable seeing as the Y in this construction is usually ideals like compassion and peace. The last major piece of the arrangement comes from the fact that in general, he addresses an audience without any restrictions but he does call out a specific group, soldiers who he urges to lay down their arms and not fight for the dictators and those that would have them die for their own gain.
The style of the speaker uses language that focuses on the idealistic emotional elements of human language that is then juxtaposed with the cold language of machines and money that is devoid of pleasantries, machines which are recognized as useful are conceded as not being used in a moral manner. This constant juxtaposition of natural and moral elements in the speech helps embolden the message of peace as the appropriate end and the goodwill of man overtaking the greed of the dictators. The individual is presented as part of the group, both of which are stated as being ethical and good-natured. This is all to enforce the idea of rejecting the militaristic rhetoric used by the people that Chaplin is satirizing.
His body language mimics that of the newsreels of Hitler’s speeches with the explosions of intense movement followed by smaller gentler moments where the camera zooms in closer to the face and the expression changes from passion to earnest desire to be understood and heeded. Only one image interrupts the speech and that is of a woman on the ground who is acting hurt when he is speaking of the destruction wrought by the greed of the dictators.
The delivery makes it appear that the speech was committed fully to memory, however, as this is a movie production there might have been cues and even overdubs on the final product.
With the canons in mind, the speech is a tour de force of emotional impact that is expertly delivered and practiced. However, the lack of logical appeals limits the argument and provides no real solution. His argument, while noble, is ultimately based in his ideology and while it serves as a fantastic rallying cry it does little in the way of actually convincing those who disagree to change their opinions. However, it might push the moderates into his corner and away from the other.