Golden Rush: Trampled Under the Impulse of Hypergamy

Charlie Chaplin always played his iconic role of the ‘Tramp’ with a degree of self-deprecation. Whereas most Hollywood comedies have rewarded the central underdog both romantically and monetarily, the majority of Chaplin’s films – including The Circus and City Lights – depict the Tramp as a romantic outcast in the end. But in his 1925 rags-to-riches caper The Gold Rush, the Tramp actually gets the girl, Georgia, by appealing to a feminine impulse typically glossed over in cinema: female hypergamy.

Hypergamy is defined as the desire amongst women to pair up with men of superior strength, status, prowess and wealth, the last of which is finally attained by the Tramp at the climax of his Alaskan adventure. The romantic saga unleashed upon Georgia’s arrival embodies hypergamy at its most extreme. First we have the Tramp, a naive and awkward pantomime of man/boy traits, whose openheartedness makes him easy prey to the emotional clutches of womankind. Then there’s Georgia, the bob-haired beauty whose frontal charms mask an undercurrent of sadism. Lastly, there’s Jack, the burly lout who serves as Georgia’s suitor.

Initially, Georgia takes amusement in the Tramp’s infatuation with her, and leads him on by smugly accepting his New Years invitation. Her compunctions surface after a second twist in her schemes, where she calls for a belated drop-by to that snubbed New Years Eve party, only to discover the heartfelt efforts in which the Tramp had partaken in preparation for that evening. She’s further shaken when a love note she wrote for Jack is redistributed as means for a cruel, misleading prank against our lovelorn Tramp. There are some lines that even bad boys aren’t allowed to cross.

In a typical romantic comedy, the proverbial last straw for the heroine would prompt her final turnaround – away from the villainous ‘other guy’, and right into the arms of our leading man – but not in the world of Chaplin. Our Tramp doesn’t get the girl until the closing moment, and only because of his newfound wealth, which ultimately renders him a magnet for female hypergamy.

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