Paul M. Willenberg
18 January, 1996
Literary Echoes in Film
M. Christensen
Calvino and Chaplin

Because Calvino’s king exists entirely in a solipsistic dream-state, we need Chaplin’s Hynkel and barber to focus our attention on the intentions and causes for the king’s imaginings. Chaplin reveals that the king’s imagination becomes his essence because of his limited senses. The king’s dreams are simply possible realities. Additionally, Calvino shows how the Jewish barber and Hynkel are both prisoners and kings.

The restriction of senses in Chaplin reveals why the king turns to imagination. The fog surrounding the soldier confuses him and makes him go into the wrong camp. He lost his primary sense -- sight. Having his senses restricted places the soldier in situation where he has no experience. Without his sight he is lost. This shows why the king is dependent on his ear. Since he has no other senses, his hearing becomes his only means of perceiving reality. When we hear a moo we look for a cow to confirm that sensory perception. The king and the soldier do not have that luxury. The king only has hearing. Therefore, he uses his imagination to confirm this as reality. His imagination defines his reality. The soldier, however, only loses one of his five senses. The soldier almost loses his life because he becomes temporarily blind. This reveals the incredible extent of the king’s predicament. Without anything to confirm reality, the king is left lost in a fog. Even though he has one sense left, it ceases to have importance. Since he cannot confirm what he hears it must just a well be imagination. Calvino Suggests that a singular and dependent sense is not good enough. All our senses are vital in experiencing and confirming reality. When Chaplin’s soldier loses his sight, it makes us consider that perhaps Calvino’s message could be applied to Chaplin. We are dependent on our sight. If we had no sight we might become lost in a deluge of imaginations and smelly, sandpapeery, or salty things. So Chaplin extends Calvino’s thesis that we depend completely on our senses as a bridge and as a tool to experience the external reality. We create our internal reality only after we have sensed it. Without senses we have no connection to the external reality.

Chaplin shows that the king’s fears that he will be deposed are not completely imaginings. “The scepter must be held in the right hand, erect; you must never, never put it down” (33). The king is bound to hold the scepter and stay on the throne. He imagines that if he were to get up he would immediately lose his throne to the throng of usurpers. His imagination creates a fear that is very real to him. Calvino shows this by the mandates the king sets for himself, such as , the scepter never being put down. We would consider these fears of deposition just part of his overactive imagination if we did not consider Hynkel. Hynkel, too, is bound to his throne. When Napolini knocked his back and sent him off his throne, or chair, it symbolized the uncompromising position Hynkel is placed in when he leaves his chair. He is bound. When he finally does leave to go duck hunting, he is deposed. Thus, Chaplin’s barber taking the spot of Hynkel is the physicality and tangible manifestation of the king’s fears. The barber justifies the king’s fear. Chaplin thereby shows the king’s over active imagination also creates fears that are possible. So, Calvino, when considered in light of Chaplin, suggests that imagination is merely the exploration of possible realities. What we imagine may seem ludicrous but is indeed a possible bifurcation of the sensory perceptions and experiences we have. Even though the king has total freedom of interpretation, he still will hit upon things that will happen in the external reality. In other worlds, as the king jumps from possible reality to possible reality, like Worf, he must at some point hit on possibilities that seem logical and even on ones that will happen.

Calvino reveals how both Hynkel and the Jewish barber are prisoners. Chaplin already establishes the juxtaposition for us, however, Calvino focuses our attention on their entrapment. “You do not know which of you is king and which is prisoner” (62). The king is bound to his throne in much the same way Hynkel is bound to his chair. Chaplin suggests that the Jewish barber is trapped by Hynkel. That the ideas of Hynkel, as a direct product of his every whim becoming reality, enprison the barber. So, Calvino reveals, through his emphasis on the imagination of the king becoming reality, that the thoughts of Hynkel become reality. So, it may be said that the thoughts of Hynkel not only make the Jewish barber a prisoner but also enprison Hynkel himself. Calvino makes us consider that Hynkel is a slave to his own desires. He cannot control his greed because it becomes tangible as soon as it becomes a complete thought. So, the effect of being a king that Calvino shows makes both Hynkel and the Jewish barber prisoners. Calvino’s statement begs the question, how, then, is the Jewish barber a king? He is a king for precisely the same reason Hynkel is a prisoner. Hynkel does not control the mind and imagination of the barber. Because there exists a clear distinction between dream and reality the barber is free to explore the possibilities between them. His girlfriend states that the only time she is happy is when she is dreaming. Thus, the people that Hynkel oppresses are also kings in the more traditional sense because they are happy. They have power to explore their dream worlds. Calvino’s emphasis on perspective reveals how the barber and his girlfriend also have the grounding in reality to allow them to truly appreciate the opportunities of their dreams. Furthermore, by considering both Calvino and Chaplin, we conclude that reality is not what makes us happy, it is what our imagination changes and adds to that reality that gives us pleasure. We do not love ice cream, but the emotions, feelings, memories that our imagination and dreaming attach to that experience. So, the Jewish barber and Hynkel; are both kings and prisoners.

Chaplin reveals the fear and imagination of the king are simply possible realities. Considering Chaplin makes the kings statements ironic. Amazingly, he isolates crucial parameters of reality when he only has one sense and embellishes it with his imagination quite liberally. Without sensory perceptions we would not only be devoid of a link to reality, but we could not create our own.