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Analysis of Citizen Kane | Summary, Context & Quotes

Instructor: Nicole Hughes

Certified Secondary English/Language Teacher B.S.Ed Secondary Education & English; M.Ed. Education Administration; Ed.S. Education Administration

Learn about Orson Welles’s famous film ‘’Citizen Kane’’ through a summary. Discover the movie’s cast and analyze its quotes, themes, meaning and ending. Updated: 12/09/2022

What is Citizen Kane About?

Citizen Kane is the story of the life of the fictional newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane. The movie begins as Kane dies while holding a snow globe. Just before his death whispers one word, ''Rosebud,''. As newsrooms are deciding how to present the life and death of Charles Foster Kane, one newsroom has chosen to focus on that one word to reveal Kane's true character. A reporter is sent out to interview acquaintances of Kane's to uncover the story behind Kane's last word.

The reporter is followed as he interviews Kane's ex-wife, Susan, and Kane's childhood guardian, Thatcher. Thatcher has passed away, but the reporter is given access to his memoirs. These writings provide a flashback to Kane's youth. This memoir describes the first time Thatcher met Mary Kane, Charles Foster Kane's mother. Mary owns a boarding house in Colorado, and had accepted payment from a tenet in the form of stock in a gold mine. Thatcher called on Mary Kane to inform her that the stock listed in her name had made her extremely wealthy. Mary Kane chooses to send the young Kane to live with Thatcher. Kane is upset by these events and strikes Thatcher with the sled he has been playing on in the snow since Thatcher's arrival.

The next time the audience sees Kane, he is older and has bought the New York Inquirer, a small newspaper. Kane remains under the advisement of the same banker from his youth who met with his mother. The banker and Kane rarely agree on how to invest Kane's large inheritance. The newspaper is no exception. As the Inquirer grows in circulation, so does Kane's popularity. He eventually lures the writing staff from the most successful newspaper in New York and expands the Inquirer across the country. With the help of a college friend, Jedediah Leland, and the newspaper manager, Mr. Bernstein, Kane grows into a larger-than-life celebrity in New York, even entering into politics after marrying Emily Kane, the niece of the current President of the United States, President Monroe.

Citizen Kane movie advertisement

color movie advertisement for Citizen Kane including images of Orson Welles and the two female leads

While campaigning for governor, Kane, a married man, is caught in an inappropriate relationship with a lounge singer, Susan. Kane refuses to end the relationship with her leading to a divorce from Emily and a loss at the polls. Eventually, Kane marries Susan and pushes her to become a renowned opera singer. He believes she is talented and becomes obsessed with everyone else seeing Susan the way he sees her. This pressure leads to Susan's attempted suicide. The two leave the city and build an oasis on nearly 50,000 acres in Florida, where Kane constructs his castle, Xanadu. Susan misses the social activities of New York and tired of remaining isolated in Xanadu. Frustrated with Kane's inability to truly give her anything in their life together, Susan leaves Kane. He erupts in anger and finds a snow globe that reminds him of his early years in Colorado and he whispers the word '' Rosebud.''

While interviewing the butler of Xanadu, the reporter learns of the only other time that Kane breathed the word Rosebud. As the reporter is leaving Xanadu, convinced that he will never uncover the mystery behind the word, some of Kane's lesser valued belongings are being placed into a fire. One of those items is the sled that Kane was playing on in Colorado the day that Thatcher visited his mother. The word emblazoned across the sled is Rosebud.

Cast of Citizen Kane

The cast of Citizen Kane is comprised of multiple major and minor characters.

  • Charles Foster Kane is played by Orson Welles. Kane is the protagonist of the plot, the center of all major conflicts and plot developments. The movie outlines the life of Charles Foster Kane from his youth in Colorado until he died in Florida.
  • Jedediah Leland is played by Joseph Cotton. Leland is Kane's college friend who helps him build the New York Inquirer and works as the social editor for the newspaper until Leland must write a review of Susan Kane's opera performance. Following the negative review, Kane fires his long-time friend.
  • Susan Kane is played by Dorothy Comingore. Susan is Kane's second wife, who is unphased by the gap in social status between the two when they first meet. However, Kane is determined to have others view Susan as a talented performer, an obsession that leads to Susan's suicide attempt.
  • Emily Kane is played by Ruth Warrick. Mary is Kane's first wife and the niece of President Monroe. When Mary is made aware of Kane's relationship with Susan, Kane leaves Mary to pursue his life with Susan.
  • Mr. Bernstein is played by Everett Sloane. Bernstein is Kane's newspaper manager, close friend, and confidante. Bernstein proves loyal to Kane even after Kane dies at Xanadu.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main story of Citizen Kane?

The main story of Citizen Kane is the life of fictional wealthy newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane. At the time of his death, Foster whispers the word rosebud. A reporter sets out to discover the meaning of the mysterious Kane's last word.

What did Rosebud mean in Citizen Kane?

Rosebud was Charles Foster Kane's final word before dying. The audience learns that rosebud is the word that was emblazoned on the sled that he was playing on as a young child the day that his mother sent him away to live with his guardian, Thatcher.

What does the ending of Citizen Kane mean?

Hired men who are destroying Charles Foster Kane's useless belongings toss an old sled into the incinerator to be burned and destroyed, the audience can make out a word that is written across an old sled. The word on the sled is rosebud, Kane's final word.

What is the message from Citizen Kane?

The central message of Citizen Kane lies in the relationships that Charles Foster Kane lacks despite all of the material wealth that he gained during his life. Kane learns that it is not what you have around you as you grow old, but who you have around you that truly determines a man's worth.

Why was Citizen Kane controversial?

At the time of Citizen Kane's release, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding the film. William Randolph Hearst, a wealthy and well-known newspaper magnate objected to what he believed to be a depiction of a character that too closely resembled his own life. Hearst and director and star of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, embarked on a ruthless mission to destroy each other as a result of the movie.

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