Crime In Modern Times

Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and Davis’ “Life In The Iron Mills” are in mutual consent of the socio-economic conditions during harsh industrial times. The inconsiderate owner of the assembly line in Modern Times is synonymous to Kirby in “Life In The Iron Mills”. They are similar in treating labor that is nothing more than ‘hands’ to them. The effort to implement the food machine in the assembly line serves as an evidence for the inferior treatment the labor got from the owner of the factories. They weren’t even allowed to take time off to eat a meal. Machines and technology, nowadays considered to be a helping hand for human beings, were treated better than human.

Unethical practices by factory owners directly led to criminal behavior and socialist movements. Chaplin uses humor to make a mockery out of the inequitable upper class. His nervous breakdown and his consistent efforts to go to jail for a better life, constitute the crime that took place due to lack of social mobility and opportunity for the labor class. Chaplin sets a benchmark of social injustice as he shows how his lower class status contributes to him being considered as the leader of the work boycott when he wasn’t acquainted to it in any way. Chaplin can be seen as a good man in the movie; he helps the police to capture the prisoners attempting to escape. He receives executive treatment in jail and is thus reluctant to leave, despite having a guaranteed job. This reflects on how poor the working conditions were.

Similarly, Hugh in ‘Life In The Iron Mills’ also experiences a nervous breakdown and commits a criminal act. He strives to improve his living conditions and after listening to a conversation of the three better off men, figures out that working at the iron mill won’t help this purpose. Hugh’s ontological belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of God inspires him but also eventually directs him to commit suicide. He thinks that God would understand if he doesn’t return the money back to Mitchell as all people are equal in His eyes. He is later imprisoned for this shameful act, suffers in jail and eventually slits his wrist. He gains hope dramatically (due to his religious beliefs) to have a better future. However, he fails in an effort to achieve his maximum potential and gradually loses hope after several desperate attempts to get out of jail.

  1. The lower class girl in “Modern Times” is also interesting to look at when considering this idea. She stole food in order to survive because of the harsh economic times her father was facing. She also ran away from the social security workers in order to find a better life. The social security process treats orphans like products in a factory, they are nothing more than another piece of paper.

  2. The fact that you pointed out the harshness of the factory owner is very interesting. How he is the only one who speaks definitely places emphasis on his cruelty. It seems like he has become a machine as well, only worried about efficiency and the maximum profit

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