Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane Summary and Analysis of Chapter 21: Trying to prove things - Chapter 25: Life at Xanadu


Back at the hospital, Leland surmises that Charles Foster Kane finished writing the terrible review about his own wife's debut because he wanted to prove to Leland that he was an honest man; Kane always had something to prove. Leland claims that Kane only pushed Susan into singing because when the newspapers exposed their affair, Susan was called a "singer", and Kane was trying to force her legitimacy. Leland remembers that Kane did write to him once from Xanadu, the palatial home he built for Susan, but Leland never responded. He muses that Kane never finished building Xanadu - he never finished anything, actually, except for Leland's review. This ends Thompson's interview with Jedediah Leland.

As nurses lead Leland away, dissolve to the painted portrait of Susan, indicating Thompson's return to the El Rancho. Susan is still slumped over a table, drunk, but this time she's talking to Thompson. She regrets that she ever sang for Charles Foster Kane, and that her singing career was his idea. In fact, everything was his idea, she smirks, "Except my leavin' him."

Dissolve to a flashback, where young, newly married Susan Alexander Kane sings at a piano in a stunning and spacious parlor. Signor Matisti instructs her, and an accompanist plays the notes dutifully, but the lesson is clearly not going well. Charles Foster Kane appears in the doorway and observes silently, until Signor Matisti gives up, declaring it "impossible" for Susan to ever become a singer. Kane informs Matisti that his job is not to offer opinions and forces both Susan and Matisti to continue the lesson, against both of their wishes. This scene consists of only one shot, encapsulating the tense conflict between Charles and Susan.

Dissolve to a repeat of the shot backstage at the opera that appeared during Leland's flashback. This time, the camera is behind Susan when the curtain rises on her debut performance. As she steps out onto the stage, the lights obscure the audience and she belts her first note into a shadowy abyss. In a close-up, Charles watches Susan proudly, while Leland shreds his program in boredom and Bernstein sleeps. Signor Matisti frantically gesticulates from offstage, but he, too, eventually gives up. The sadness in Susan's eyes as she tries to sing on key is the only real emotion on the stage. At the end of her performance, there is polite applause, but only Kane gives his wife a triumphant ovation. He stands alone as the audience filters out.

In the next shot, Susan is sitting on the ground of yet another parlor room, surrounded by newspapers and congratulatory bouquets, shrieking angrily. She is furious at Leland's review - the other reviews are also negative, but this one appeared in her husband's paper. Little does she know that Charles himself wrote half of it. A messenger delivers a package from Jed Leland. Inside are the ripped pieces of Leland's $25,000 severance check and the original copy of the "Declaration of Principles" that ran in Kane's first issue of the Inquirer. Kane rips the Declaration to pieces dismissively, calling it "an antique". Susan continues to hurl venom at her husband, saying she never wanted to sing in the first place, but Kane insists she must continue. He stands over her, and she shrinks submissively into his shadow.

Dissolve to an Inquirer headline announcing Susan Alexander Kane's ovation in Washington. There is a montage of her performances and the regional headlines that follow them - showing that she has been selling out venues all over the country (even though none of the articles mention that this is because of her talent, inferring that she is more a curiosity than a singer). The montage ends with the symbolic image of a lightbulb fizzing out.

The next scene begins inside a darkened bedroom, with a cup of water, a spoon, and a medicine bottle in clear focus in the foreground. The sounds of heavy breathing emanate from the bed, but the person does not awaken to answer the firm knocks at the door. Finally, Kane breaks the door down and examines Susan, calling for a doctor immediately. In the next shot, time has passed and the doctor tells Kane that Susan (who is asleep) will be fine in a few days. Kane stays overnight with Susan, waiting for her to wake up. When she does, she tells Kane that she tried to kill herself because he was not listening to her. She does not want to sing anymore, and feels awful knowing the audience "doesn't want" her. Kane tries to impress on her that she has to fight the audience, but it is clear that Susan is finished. Charles Foster Kane tells his wife that she won't have to fight anymore.

Fade through to the exterior nighttime shot of Xanadu - the same image from the film's opening sequence. Susan, decked out in diamonds and chiffon finery, works solemnly on a large jigsaw puzzle in an imposing hall, surrounded by majestic statues. Charles Foster Kane enters, and their voices echo through the vast emptiness. Susan asks what time it is in New York City - 11:30 pm - and imagines people getting out of the theater and going to nightclubs. She's lonely in this palace, and feels like "a person could go crazy in this dump." She whines like a child, desperate to go to New York, but Charles tells her definitively, "our home is here." Time oozes by slowly through a montage of Susan finishing one large jigsaw puzzle after another.


In this section of Citizen Kane, the mysterious tycoon loses all his power but instead focuses his energies on his wife's opera career and building Xanadu. Along with Thompson and all his interviewees thus far, the audience still remains unclear as to what it is Charles Foster Kane really wanted in life. Pauline Kael writes that the character of Charles Foster Kane links the life stories of William Randolph Hearst, Herman Mankiewicz, and Orson Welles in a "story of how brilliantly gifted men who seem to have everything it takes to do what they want to do are defeated. It's the story of how heroes become comedians and con artists" (10). Kane has fallen from being able to rouse a major rally full of supporters to spring to their feet, to standing alone in an ovation for his wife's opera debut, which is unabashedly mediocre. The result is, as Kael indicates, seemingly part of a dramatic con, using Susan to maintain relevance and recapture public adoration.

When Leland sends him his original Declaration of Principles, Kane has the opportunity to contemplate his failures, but he quickly calls the document "an antique" and tears it up. He would rather destroy the evidence of his former idealism than learn from it, which is stubborn and bull-headed. Kael writes, "Mankiewicz was trying to give a comprehensive view of the contradictions that emerge when an idealist attempts to succeed in business and politics" (88). Leland claims that Kane wrote the negative review skewering his own wife's performance to prove that he is an honest man, and yet, when Kane receives evidence of how he once actually wanted to be and honest man, he tears it up. He wants to prove himself worthy of adoration, but doesn't believe that he has to change anything about himself to earn it. As Leland says, Kane always wants people to love him, but only on his own terms.

Orson Welles's theatrical roots are on full display during the frenzied performance montage of Susan Alexander Kane performing grand opera against her will. He uses sound and imagery to capture the mood of Susan's tour - putting everything she has into every performance, only to come up short every time. She goes from misguided ingenue to popular public embarrassment - and the end of her performing career is signaled by a single, pulsing spotlight that fizzles out against distorted sound. This theatricality is part of what made Welles's cinematic voice so distinct.

This section also introduces the dramatic interior of Xanadu, namely the Great Hall. Originally, the sketches of the Great Hall commissioned by Welles and Perry Ferguson, his art director, called for a much more grandiose representation of the room than eventually ended up in the film. However, due to budget constraints, Ferguson had to make do with less. The idea of miniatures in this set, which would have reduced construction costs, would have not allowed Welles and Gregg Toland to carry out their intricate plan of camera movements. Instead, Welles "sensed the enormous dramatic potential of the vast empty spaces of the Great Hall set for deep-focus compositions" (Carringer 55). Indeed, Welles used all these restrictions to his benefit, as the visual treatment of the castle's interior is parallel to Kane himself - a man who has every opportunity and material possession he could possibly dream of, and yet, is alone in a monstrously unwelcoming, though massive space, in a loveless marriage.

Welles's flair for dramatic, artificial lighting is clear throughout the film. He uses all the cinematic tools at his disposal to direct his audience's attention, as Pauline Kael writes, "he used light like a spotlight on stage, darkening or blackening out the irrelevant" (77). In addition to cutting the costs of building a "fully illuminated, three-sided set" for the Great Hall, "the completed set [was] selectively illuminated, with whole areas left dark" (Carrington 62). This further enhances the utter loneliness and isolation that both Susan and Charles suffer from while residing in their pleasure palace. In addition, Susan is clad in diamonds and evening wear, dreaming of outings in New York, but working on a puzzle - she's all dressed up with no place to go. Geoff Andrew calls these scenes "a mockery of domestic life".

Meanwhile, Susan's affinity for jigsaw puzzles operates on multiple levels. For one, it allows Welles to capture her utter loneliness, as these puzzles show pictures of placid nature scenes from the outside world, as a contrast to the dark, foreboding emptiness of Xanadu's Great Hall. Additionally, the dissolves from one puzzle to another allow for a seamless yet efficient passage of time. Finally, the jigsaw puzzle provides the metaphor that Jerry Thompson will ultimately use to describe his journey through the life of Charles Foster Kane. "...the idea of the jigsaw becomes revelatory and all-pervading. We look back from Susan Alexander Kane's epic bemusement over a literal jigsaw in the final scenes to the whole jigsaw technique this montage-rich movie has deployed from the early News on the March newsreel to the skittering ellipses of Kane's tycoon career" (Andrews).