Charlie Chaplin’s film The Kid is, “a picture with a smile- and perhaps a tear.” It begins with a young mother being ushered out of a charity hospital by a stern looking nurse and an administrator. Their duty is done and now she is on her own. She realizes she will not be able to care for her child as an unemployed actress, especially when the painter father is missing. She leaves her child in the backseat of an expensive car, hoping the rich owner will help her child escape poverty, but it is too vicious a cycle.
When the young mother becomes a success, surrounded by wealth and fame, she remains virtuous. She uses her status to help the children and mothers in poverty as she searches for her own child. Chaplin is illustrating that when the poor come into money, they do not squander it or spend it on frivolous things. They spread their wealth around in an attempt to help as many as possible, not out of obligation (like those at the hospital), but out of joy.
Chaplin’s tramp character comes across the baby left by a trash can. The tramp tries to pass the baby to others, but no one wants him. The scene is comedic, but it mirrors the very stressful and unsuccessful foster care system that Chaplin himself was trapped in for a while. These children are seen as a burden and are treated as such, never shown the care and love that children so need.
The tramp takes him home and cares for him to the best of his abilities, rigging up a makeshift hammock and a bottle that was once a tea kettle. Over the next five years, he and the young boy work together, look out for one another, and love each other. The tramp teaches him valuable life skills like cooking, cleaning, making nice with the rich, how to defend himself (both with his fists and his wit), and how to pick your battles. It is obvious that the child is well-fed, educated (in a way), and well-loved. So why then does the country doctor call the state orphanage to take the child away? While his intentions may be good (no one wants to see a child in poverty), his ignorance of the welfare and child care system causes more harm than good. The uniformed men who come to take the child away and the police that assist them are cruel to the tramp and the child, not listening to either and physically hurting them both. Throughout the film, authority figures are depicted as figures of punishment and intolerance. They do not aid or protect as they are meant to. They subscribe to the ides of the classist system in which the poor are not to be trusted and that by giving the poor aid, they are enabling bad behavior. Because of this, the tramp and the kid actively avoid all figures of authority rather than reach out to them.
The biggest problem with the system is that it does not recognize that the best place for a child is the place where they are loved. The kid is safe and taken care of both in the lavish home of his mother, and in the tiny, run-down apartment of the tramp. He gets a happy ending in the arms of the tramp in his mother’s home, spared the fate of becoming lost in the system. Chaplin’s film proves that love and compassion improve any situation.