Young Charles Foster Kane, now smartly dressed and polished, unwraps a brand-new sled, and the camera tilts up to reveal that he is surrounded by Mr. Thatcher and several other formal-looking men in suits. Cut to Mr. Thatcher, nearly two decades later, dictating a letter to the now 25-year-old Charles about the details of all his holdings, comprising the world's 6th largest fortune - all of which is now under his control. In the next shot, Mr. Thatcher's associates are reading aloud Kane's response: that he is not interested in any of the holdings except for the New York Inquirer, a tiny failing newspaper. He writes, "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper." Mr. Thatcher looks straight into the camera, exasperated.
Cut to a room full of businessmen reading the Inquirer, including Mr. Thatcher. The content of the newspaper infuriates Mr. Thatcher even more; the headlines tout the exposure of corruption in the capitalist world. Thatcher goes to see Charles Foster Kane, now a young man, in the Inquirer office. In a single over-the-shoulder shot, Kane tells Mr. Thatcher that he is actually two different people. He is the heir to the sixth-largest private fortune in the world, but he is also the publisher of the Inquirer, and he wants to stand up for the less fortunate so they are not robbed by a pack of "money-mad pirates." Mr. Thatcher informs Kane he is losing a million dollars a year on the Inquirer, but the young man couldn't care less - he has enough money to keep the paper in print for sixty years.
Transition to 1929, as signaled by Thatcher's handwritten memoir. Mr. Bernstein reads from a contract that says Kane's media conglomerate is out of cash, and he must sell. Mr. Thatcher, now very old, says that Charles always used his money to buy things and never made any investments. Charles Foster Kane ruminates that if he hadn't been so rich, perhaps he could have been a great man. Thatcher thinks he is a great man, and asks him what he would have liked to have been, to which Kane responds, "everything you hate."
Back in the Walter Parks Thatcher Memorial Library, Thompson finishes reading the chapter and closes the manuscript, frustrated. It is time for him to leave, and he did not find what he was looking for. The next shot finds Thompson (once again with his back to the camera) speaking to Mr. Bernstein, who has a framed portrait of Charles Foster Kane over his desk. Bernstein speculates that Rosebud was one of Kane's paramours, someone who captured his attention in an unexpected way. Bernstein says that Kane never wanted money - and tells Thompson to see Mr. Leland, Kane's close friend from college. Leland was there with Bernstein on the day that Kane took over the Inquirer.
A dissolve signals Bernstein's flashback to Kane's early days at the Inquirer. Kane clashes with Mr. Carter, the paper's editor. Kane immediately proclaims that he will be living in Mr. Carter's office - and from now on, the news cycle is 24 hours a day, and he is interested in the kind of stories that Carter dismisses as "housewives' tales". Late that night, Kane tells Leland and Bernstein that he wants the New York Inquirer to be important, and prints a declaration of principles in his first issue, promising to tell the truth, and to be a champion of the peoples' rights. As he writes this declaration, Kane's face is entirely in shadow. The scene ends with a triumphant low-angle medium shot of Charles Foster Kane, beaming, as the image dissolves to his declaration printed on the front page of the new Inquirer.
Kane, Leland, and Bernstein look out of the window of the Inquirer office, upon which is printed "Circulation: 26,000". Meanwhile, the Chronicle's window boasts 495,000 readers. Bernstein points out the framed photograph of "The Greatest Newspaper Staff in the World," and claims that with reporters like that, of course more people read the Chronicle. The still image of the Chronicle's staff comes to life as Kane paces in front of them, revealing that six years later, he has managed to hire every single one of the Chronicle's reporters and grown the Inquirer's circulation to 684,000. During a celebration of this milestone, Kane stands at the head of a long banquet table, filled with his adoring staff. Charles Foster Kane announces that he is going to Europe on vacation, and Bernstein jokingly makes him promise not to buy paintings and statues. Kane promises, and then jokes back about how he never keeps promises. Everyone laughs.
A marching band stampedes into the room, followed by majorettes, much to the journalists' amusement. Charles Foster Kane is at the center of the celebration, and enjoys it thoroughly, kissing showgirls and dancing with the band. The whole room sings a song about "ol' Charlie Kane". Over the din, Leland expresses concern to Bernstein about the new staff, wondering if they will stay in line with the Inquirer's politics, which are very different from the Chronicle's. Leland questions if Kane will really be able to change the new journalists, but Bernstein shrugs off his colleague's misgivings.
Bernstein runs into the office, excited because he has received a telegram from Charles Foster Kane, who is in Paris. Leland is moving boxes of sculptures all over the place, new purchases that Kane has been sending home from Europe. The telegram says he wants to buy the world's biggest diamond. Bernstein claims that he did not go to Europe with Kane because he's too uptight and he wanted Kane to have fun. Bernstein comments that the diamond is for "someone who is collecting diamonds."
Dissolve to the Inquirer office, where the nearly 500 employees are awaiting their leader's return. Kane tears into the room in a white suit with a social announcement for the society editor, Mrs. Townsend. He rushes out of the office as quickly as he arrived, and the staff learns that Kane will be marrying Emily Monroe Norton, who happens to be the niece of the President of the United States. The Inquirer staff leans out the window of their massive headquarters to watch the happy couple ride off in a horse-drawn carriage.
Dissolve back to Mr. Bernstein's office, where Thompson is listening to his recollections intently. Bernstein states the obvious, that Emily Norton was not Charles Foster Kane's Rosebud, as their marriage ended badly. Bernstein offers some wisdom to Thompson - perhaps Rosebud was something Kane lost, since he lost everything he had. Bernstein suggests again that Thompson speak to Leland, even though he and Kane had argued over the Spanish-American War.
Through Walter P. Thatcher's memoirs, Thompson (and the audience) gets a glimpse of Charles Foster Kane as a young man - arrogant, wealthy, and determined. Out of all the assets he gains control of on his 25th birthday, the only one he is interested in is The Inquirer because he "think[s] it would be fun to run a newspaper". In this moment, Charles Foster Kane's priorities become clear. It is not money he is after - it is power. He thrives on the power to affect public opinion, as is evident when Thatcher comes to see Kane in the Inquirer office. Bernstein reads Kane a telegram from their correspondent in Cuba, who feels guilty about spending the paper's money down there, because there is no war. Kane, without batting an eyelash, proudly composes his response: "you provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war."
The Spanish-American War symbolizes the height of Charles Foster Kane's (fictional) public influence. In reality, the Spanish-American War has been called "the first media war" because newspaper owners like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer used their influence to encourage the United States' involvement in the Cuban struggle against Spain by publishing accounts of the Cuban people's suffering. Hearst and Pulitzer are credited with creating "yellow journalism", which "used melodrama, romance, and hyperbole to sell millions of newspapers" - and, in this case, actually drive the country into armed conflict against Spain (PBS).
When Kane offers his readers a 'Declaration of Principles' on his first issue of the Inquirer, Bernstein warns him against making promises he can't keep. A few scenes later, after the circulation of the Inquirer has increased by leaps and bounds, Bernstein and Kane banter about Kane's inability to keep his promises - and shows that journalistic integrity is no longer as important to Charles Foster Kane as it was to Mr. Carter or, for that matter, to Jedediah Leland. While Kane is writing his two-sentence Declaration of Principles, Leland observes that both of the sentences begin with "I", to which Kane responds, "People are going to know who is responsible." It is clear that the Declaration of Principles is part of Kane's grab at power, whether he realizes it or not at this point. Ensuring that his readers will not only trust him but that his fingerprints will be all over his paper sets the stage for Kane's growing influence over public opinion.
Like Charles Foster Kane, Orson Welles wanted to make his influence known on every single piece of work he produced. His battle with screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz over the writing credit on Citizen Kane turned much of Hollywood against him. There is still a great deal of conflict and speculation about whether Welles or Mankiewicz was responsible for the ground-breaking screenplay. Pauline Kael writes that Mankiewicz had the idea to make a "prismatic film about the life of a man seen from several different points of view", and had already started working on collecting information to make a biopic about William Randolph Hearst (49). Either way, Citizen Kane set a benchmark for innovation in the structure of movie narratives while working within a form that audiences could understand. Syd Field writes, "Citizen Kane is told from a flashback but that does not detract from its form". The form of the film consists of "selecting a few incidents of a character's life and structuring them in a dramatic fashion" (Field 271).
Even though the audience does not learn about the life of Charles Foster Kane in a linear fashion, each chapter of Citizen Kane allows for further development of his character. Field cites Henry James' Theory of Illumination, which was that if a character occupies the center of the circle, and all the other characters he interacts with surround him - then each time a character interacts with the main character, the other characters can reveal or illuminate different aspects of the main character (Field 71). We see this play out as part of the structure of Citizen Kane. In his search for the meaning of "Rosebud", Thompson, the faceless journalist, must dredge up every detail he can find on Charles Foster Kane's life. At the end of the film, Thompson (and therefore, the audience) has learned a great deal about Charles Foster Kane - even without unlocking the secret of "Rosebud", which Thompson concludes is only a part of a much more complicated jigsaw puzzle.
The "Rosebud" device, which serves as a propeller to keep Thompson moving from interview to interview, is one aspect of the screenplay that Welles credits entirely to Mankiewicz. Welles said, "The 'Rosebud' gimmick is what I like least about the movie. It's a gimmick, really, and rather dollar-book Freud" (Kael 71). In addition, many critics were unimpressed by "Rosebud", finding it "phony" and "stale". For example, Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg claim that "Rosebud" "...is not a key to unlocking the film's mystery but a device obviously designed to impose an arbitrary semblance of order on what would have seemed to 1941 audiences too chaotic (109)."