Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Describe how Welles and Toland used deep focus to enhance the narrative during the scene when Charles's mother is signing the papers to transfer his guardianship to Thatcher.

    This sequence begins with an image that embodies innocence - a young boy (Charles Foster Kane) playing with his sled in the snow, carefree and happy despite the inclement weather swirling around him. This image stays in focus throughout the rest of the scene, where Charles's father, Mr. Kane, argues with his mother, Mrs. Kane, who has made the decision to send Charles to Chicago with Mr. Thatcher so that he can have a chance for a better life. Through the use of deep focus, Welles keeps the audience aware of the fact that this innocent child's fate is being decided while he plays happily in the snow, unaware that the course of his life is about to change. The window creates a frame around the image of young Charles, giving the outdoor scene a nostalgic feeling.

  2. 2

    Compare and contrast the circumstances surrounding Charles Foster Kane's two marriages, and how Welles chooses to depict these relationships.

    Charles's first marriage to Emily Norton fits in perfectly with his persona as new American royalty - after all, she is the President's niece. The famous breakfast-table montage takes place in a serene, private environment - and the internal battles of their marriage are played out through passive-aggressive quarrels and silences. Meanwhile, Kane marries Susan Alexander Kane because of a public scandal. Their dynamics play out much more publicly - Susan is a much more vocal opponent than Emily. Charles pushes his new wife to be an opera singer, which brings the conflict between them into the public eye. When Susan is leaving, Charles tries to stop her - his first concern is how it will look to others.

  3. 3

    Why does Charles Foster Kane force Susan Alexander to become an Opera Singer? Why is it so important to him?

    According to his friend Jedediah Leland, Charles Foster Kane always had something to prove. With the Chronicle's exposure of his "love nest" with a "singer", Kane is desperate to save face in light of the scandal - which for him, means turning Susan from a "singer" to a singer. When Susan protests, her husband refuses to listen because he does not want to look like a fool in the public eye. Susan's forced singing career is an example of Kane's desperation for public attention - but only on his own terms.

  4. 4

    Describe how Bernstein and Leland's flashbacks represent the two men's different relationships with Charles Foster Kane.

    While Welles does not explicitly spell out the state of Bernstein and Kane's relationship at the time of Kane's death, certain cues indicate that Bernstein remained loyal until the end. He is the Chairman of the Board and sits below a framed portrait of Charles Foster Kane. The tone of Bernstein's flashback indicates his longstanding devotion to Kane - he presents the meteoric rise of Charles Foster Kane, up until the point that he marries Emily. Meanwhile, Jedediah Leland, who had a terrible falling-out with Charles Foster Kane, is bitter and cynical, confined to a wheelchair in a hospital. His recollections of Kane are much less flattering - it is through him that we learn about Kane's downfall. Leland pokes holes in Bernstein's hero.

  5. 5

    There is only one word spoken in the opening sequence of Citizen Kane. What can the audience discern from the images alone?

    It is clear from the "No Trespassing" sign that the camera is taking us somewhere we (an audience) are not welcome. The extreme close-ups of the chain-link fence and the wrought-iron gates are further evidence of the inaccessibility of the castle in the distance. The images of empty gondolas and a decaying golf course suggest that this place was built by somebody of great wealth, but who does not use any of this massive house's extravagant features. Inside, a dying man is alone, holding a snow-globe with a tiny cabin inside, an item that is clearly important to him. He speaks the word "Rosebud" in a slow, morose way, so it must be something that has caused him pain in some way. The only person who enters when he dies is a nurse, which shows that this man was alone, with no family or friends around him. The fact that these images tell a near-perfect story of the man we will get to know is a testament to Welles's strength as a director.

  6. 6

    Describe the conflict between Charles Foster Kane and Walter Parks Thatcher and what their differing political views represent.

    The first time Mr. Thatcher appears on screen, he is testifying in a Congressional investigation that Charles Foster Kane's social beliefs prove that he is a communist. Throughout the film, Thatcher makes his beliefs very clear: he stands for capitalism. Thatcher represents Mrs. Kane's newfound wealth, which she uses to send her son away for a better life. He cannot understand why Charles Foster Kane would print stories in the Inquirer that attack Wall Street, an action he believes is akin to Kane biting the hand that feeds him. Kane's beliefs, on the other hand, are not quite so black-and-white, as he reveals in his speech to Thatcher about his dual responsibility as a shareholder in the Public Transit Company as well as a concerned citizen. He wants to protect his wealth but he is also looking to protect the interests of the disenfranchised. He wants to be rich and adored at the same time, while Thatcher only really cares about protecting his own interests.

  7. 7

    Why does Charles Foster Kane destroy Susan's room? What does her departure represent?

    Once Charles Foster Kane loses the race for Governor of New York, he exercises his power to try and make Susan into an opera star. When that doesn't work, he retreats to Xanadu, where he is the master of his domain - even though his domain is smaller and removed from society. Susan is part of this domain, part of Charles's desire to keep up appearances even though his reputation is beyond repair. When she leaves him, this last illusion of control is shattered. He cannot stop her from walking out the door, which is the final stage of his fall from grace. As soon as Susan walks out the door, Kane knows that it is all over for him - he has lost everything. Susan's room is full of things that represent his wealth - he has bought her everything she ever asked for, but, as Susan tells him - he never gave her anything he truly cared about. Kane's rampage in Susan's room shows that she was right - these were just things, and they could never add up to a loving relationship.

  8. 8

    Describe how the art direction and cinematography of Xanadu helps to reveal something about Charles and Susan's life.

    Xanadu is large and cavernous, and the Great Hall, where many of the scenes between Susan and Charles take place, is sparsely decorated. Also, Welles chooses to keep the room very dark, with only a few spotlights, making it feel even more gloomy. Though the opening newsreel describes Xanadu as a "private pleasure palace", it hardly feels like a place of joy. Charles alludes to parties and guests, but none of them are ever on screen. In the scene where Charles suggests they go out for a picnic, he is sitting in a grand chair so far away from Susan, who is literally doing her jigsaw puzzle in the fireplace, that she cannot hear him. This is a physical representation of the distance between them. Also, it clearly doesn't matter to Charles whether or not Susan can hear him - he suggests a picnic, she doesn't think it's a good idea, and he just repeats his suggestion, showing that his mind is already made up and Susan's opinion doesn't matter.

  9. 9

    What do you think Citizen Kane says about the American Dream?

    Citizen Kane presents a bleak view of all the things that the American Dream represents: power, wealth, and status. Charles Foster Kane's mother sends him away so that he will be able to achieve all these things, and yet, he dies filled with regret over his lost childhood. Had he stayed at Mrs. Kane's boardinghouse in Little Salem, Colorado, there is no guarantee that his life would have been happy. However, achieving the American Dream did not bring Charles Foster Kane happiness either. Perhaps, as he says in the film, if not for his wealth, he could have been a great man; or maybe he just could have been a good husband, a good father, and an upstanding citizen.

  10. 10

    When Jim W. Gettys confronts Charles Foster Kane, Gettys tells Emily that he is "fighting for [his] life, not just [his] political life, but his life". Do you think that Charles Foster Kane is able to see the distinction between his own personal and political lives? Why or why not?

    In this scene, it becomes clear that Charles Foster Kane's political life is his life. Gettys, as corrupt as he may be, does not want his children to see insulting cartoons of him in the Inquirer and feels that he must retaliate. However, Gettys offers Charles Foster Kane a choice - either he can disappear for a while, forfeit the election, and save himself and his family from the embarrassment of a public scandal, or Gettys will release the story of Charles and Susan's "affair" to the newspapers. Unlike Gettys, Kane does not care about the effect of his actions on his family. He is more concerned with earning the "love" of his voters than saving his own wife and son from pain and embarrassment. He is happy to pose with Junior and Emily if it helps to endear him to his voters, but he will not make sacrifices for their well-being.