Kane's mother sends him away when he is only eight years old, and this abrupt separation keeps him from growing past the petulant, needy, aggressive behaviors of a pre-adolescent. Kane never develops a positive emotional attachment to his guardian, Thatcher, and he rejects Thatcher's attempts at discipline and guidance. As an adult, Kane has a great deal of wealth and power but no emotional security, and this absence of security arrests his development and fuels his resentment of authority. Because of his wealth, Kane has no motivation or incentive to subject himself to social norms. He has no reason to move beyond his resentment and his sense of himself as the center of the universe, and he never takes his place as a virtuous, productive member of society. Kane seems idealistic when he first begins to run his newspaper, but his primary reason for becoming a newspaperman is to manipulate his political and social environment in order to gain total control over it. Kane’s quest for power makes him charismatic, but he eventually drives away the women and friends he attracts. As those close to him mature in a way that he cannot, they must move away from him to preserve their own selves.
Kane is not a likeable man, but Welles presents his life in a way that ultimately shrouds Kane in pathos and pity. Kane is dead when the film begins, and we learn about him only through the accounts given by his old friends and lovers. Each person has a different perception of Kane, and his or her memories are not fully reliable. A fragmented picture, not a fully fleshed-out man, is all we get. However, we know enough about Kane to know he deserves sympathy. Kane’s obsessive spending and collecting reveal that he is trying to fill an empty space inside himself with objects instead of people. He buys things for the sake of having them, not because they give him any particular joy. Kane is fundamentally lonely, and, intentionally or unintentionally, he drives away everyone who cares for him. His attempts to control those he loves always fail. When his second wife Susan prepares to leave him, he says angrily that she can’t do that to him. She firmly responds, “Yes, I can,” and then walks out the door.
Critics generally accept that Welles based the character of Kane on publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and other powerful men of his time, but Welles certainly based the character on himself as well. He, like Kane, was around eight years old when he lost his mother, though Welles’s mother died and Kane’s mother leaves by choice. Welles’s mother gave him an inflated sense of his own importance that was encouraged by his school administration and his guardian after her death. As an actor, Welles naturally imbued Charles Foster Kane with some of his own experiences and characteristics. The parallels between Kane and Welles helped Welles give a remarkable performance. Welles didn’t just act the part of Kane: in many ways, Welles was Kane.
More characters from Citizen Kane
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