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Citizen Kane

Important Quotations Explained

Biography of William Randolph Hearst

Key Facts

1.
Kane:   “Don't believe everything you hear on the radio. Read the Inquirer!”

Early in the movie, during the newsreel detailing Kane’s life, Charles Foster Kane arrives from Europe to a phalanx of reporters who bombard him with questions, and this is his first reply. This quote is undoubtedly one of the lines added to the script by Welles and is a dig both at himself and at William Randolph Hearst. Just before coming to Hollywood to make movies, Welles achieved notoriety through his War of the Worlds radio broadcast, when he had people all over America believing that Martians were invading. He was nearly arrested during the broadcast and was investigated subsequently by the FCC. The panic that resulted from the event led to stringent new rules for radio broadcasts. Welles probably felt a certain amount of resentment toward these rules since newspapers had no such controls placed upon them and often printed material that was sensationalist and simply untrue.

The comment's mockery of Hearst also derives from the fact that newspapers were no longer the rivals Hearst had to worry about—the advent of radio and of photo magazines threatened newspaper circulation. Because these media provided a new outlet for news and information, people read their papers more critically. Credibility became increasingly important in the news media. Just as Hearst had been able to reach into people’s homes and influence them through his newspapers, Welles could now do the same through radio. However, neither Welles’s radio broadcasts nor Hearst’s papers could be counted on as reliable sources, simply because the men behind them were so manipulative. When Kane tells the reporters to read the Inquirer instead of listening to the radio, he says it with tongue firmly in cheek.

2.
Kane:   “It’s also my pleasure to see to it that decent hard-working people in this community aren’t robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates, just because they haven’t anybody to look after their interests.”

Kane says this in Thatcher’s written reminiscences. Thatcher has come to visit Kane at the Inquirer to question him about his motives for attacking Thatcher’s business interests. Kane has set himself up as a man of the people, even though in social and economic terms he is much closer to Thatcher than he is to the masses. Kane still thinks of Thatcher as a pirate because of the way Thatcher took him from his mother, even though Thatcher has always looked after Kane’s business interests. Kane understands that what Thatcher cares about most is money, so he uses his newspaper to attack Thatcher's financial interests. Kane's actions also damage his own interests, but this is less important to him than hurting Thatcher. Thatcher can’t understand why Kane acts the way he does, as Bernstein later notes. In a way, Thatcher’s bewilderment is easy to understand because he was merely doing what he had been contracted to do when he took young Kane into his custody. He can’t fathom why Kane should resent him.

At the same time, and in the same scene, Kane is fomenting a war that will certainly have a detrimental effect on the same people he purports to protect. However, this war will bolster Kane's finances by increasing his newspaper’s circulation. This quote attests to Kane’s characteristic self-delusion, an affliction that surfaces here in how he perceives his relationship with the masses and elsewhere in his relationship with Susan Alexander. In Kane’s arrogance, he never considers that he might not be any more qualified to look after the interests of the American people than Thatcher is. While Thatcher’s goal may be to protect the money of those who are already rich, Kane’s goal is to control public opinion and the political climate. Kane is not as altruistic as he likes to think he is. Thatcher understands that and points it out to Kane, as does Leland later in the film when he brings to Kane’s attention that his newspaper empire is as much a monopoly as Thatcher’s financial business trusts ever were.

3.
Kane:   “I run a couple of newspapers. What do you do?”

Charles Foster Kane says this to Susan Alexander during their first meeting, which comes during Leland’s flashback retelling of Kane’s life. For Kane, part of Susan’s appeal is that she knows nothing of his fame or notoriety. Kane is thinking of his mother when he meets Susan, and his notion of Susan becomes inextricably tied up in his subconscious with memories of his lost childhood. She comes to represent unconditional love, something he doesn’t think he can achieve now that he is a rich newspaper magnate. Remaking himself as a man who just runs a couple of newspapers takes Kane back to a simpler time and gives him a sense that peaceful domesticity is possible. He comes close to experiencing such tranquility in the following sequence as he sits quietly in Susan’s armchair and listens while she sings and plays the piano for him.

In answer to the second part of the quote, Susan says she’s a shop girl, but that’s not what Kane takes from the conversation. Instead he focuses on what she says about her mother’s dreams for her, and he takes those dreams up as his own. Kane finds Susan attractive in part because she represents the masses that he so longs to control. At one point he even describes her to Leland as “a cross section of the American public.” Kane’s desire to shape Susan according to his ideal results in the collapse of both his first marriage and his political career.

4.
Bernstein:   “A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn’t think he’d remember.”

This quote comes at the beginning of Bernstein’s recollections of his relationship with Kane, when he talks to Thompson about what “Rosebud” could possibly mean. Bernstein goes on to tell Thompson an anecdote of how, back in 1896, he was on a ferry and saw a girl on another ferry. She was wearing a white dress and holding a white parasol. Although he saw her only for a second, he says that a month hasn’t gone by since then that he hasn’t thought of her. Many experts on film history and on Citizen Kane in particular consider this the most important quote in this film, encompassing as it does the themes of loss, memory, and idealism. These abstractions mean different things to the different characters who tell the story of Kane’s life, yet this quote speaks to their shared experience: all of the film's characters in some way lack control over their memories, and their recollections are clouded by their own experiences and prejudices. Thompson never gets a true picture of Charles Foster Kane because everything he learns is filtered through these imperfect memories.

Just as Bernstein lost the girl in the white dress, who is merely an idealized representation of his own youth, Kane loses his childhood, and it becomes an increasingly important touchstone in his memory even as it becomes more distant and unreal. Everyone in this film loses something, and what they lose lingers as a kind of holy grail for each of them. Kane loses his mother and childhood, Susan loses her simple life, and Leland loses his family name and the respect that accompanied it. In spite of Bernstein’s successes in the business world, he still harbors an inchoate longing for a girl he never met, just as Kane, in spite of his tremendous success, longs for the life that was taken from him. At the end of his life, Kane can do nothing but idealize, through his memory of Rosebud, the youth he can never recapture.

5.
Thompson:   “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle—a missing piece.”

Thompson says this at the very end of the film as he’s leaving Xanadu to catch his train. He’s been unsuccessful in his quest to find out who, or what, Rosebud is. As he walks through the rooms of Xanadu, crowded with the late Kane’s possessions, he picks up a jigsaw puzzle, which prompts the metaphor. Citizen Kane is about the jigsaw puzzle that is a person’s life, and what Thompson has been doing since the beginning of the movie is trying to put that puzzle together. Thompson even has a snapshot of sorts to work from, in the form of the newsreel seen very early in the film. In spite of the information he already has, Thompson ultimately fails in his efforts to put Kane’s life together simply because he’s missing one key piece: Kane himself, who is dead.

This quote relates to more than just Kane’s life. The state of Kane’s later relationship with Susan becomes clear when we see her putting together endless jigsaw puzzles as she sits, day after day, bored and isolated, in Xanadu’s vast rooms. Although Welles always maintained that Kane was not modeled on Hearst, and, more vehemently, that Susan was not modeled on Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, the fact is that Herman Mankiewicz, a writer of the script for Citizen Kane, did spend quite a bit of time at San Simeon with Marion Davies and would have known of her passion for jigsaw puzzles. The references to jigsaw puzzles supply yet more evidence for the connection between Hearst's real life and Kane's fictitious life.

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Kane's Mom

by mysterycity, August 22, 2013

I couldn't figure it until having watched it again; but it turns out that there is enough to know why his mother abandoned him. Considering the times, the situation and the few actions of Moorehead as his mother, I think I can safely assume that Kane's birth father is abusive, likely alcoholic; and his mother gave him up to insure he is safe from his father and the especially the people that they both became, the life they both sunk into; essentially her acquiescence.

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