Modern Times was Chaplin’s hilarious comic indictment of the dehumanizing and depersonalizing mass-production assembly line practices which he portrayed as driving his little tramp crazy. The artistically brilliant madness sequence in this film also was a disguised reprise of his own mother’s tragic experience of becoming floridly psychotic while engaging in physically and emotionally draining sweat shop piece-work.
Although the fundamental medical cause of his mother’s mental illness was not work exhaustion, starvation or chronic malnutrition—all three of these factors were no doubt contributory to her emotional breakdown. For reasons which are thoroughly understandable, Charlie Chaplin remained tight-lipped about the actual cause of his mother’s chronic psychosis (which continued many years after she no longer had to struggle to earn a living or find food).
According to his close personal friend and confidante (Jerry Epstein), Charlie Chaplin was well aware of his mother’s mysterious medical condition (See Chaplin A Life, Chapter II for details).