Citizen Kane

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Main Ideas

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Main Ideas Symbols

Sleds

Two sleds appear in Citizen Kane. Rosebud, the sled Kane loves as a child, appears at the beginning, during one of Kane’s happiest moments, and at the end, being burned with the rest of Kane’s possessions after Kane dies. “Rosebud” is the last word Kane utters, which not only emphasizes how alone Kane is but also suggests Kane’s inability to relate to people on an adult level. Rosebud is the most potent emblem of Kane’s childhood, and the comfort and importance it represents for him are rooted in the fact that it was the last item he touched before being taken from his home. When Kane meets Thatcher, who has come to take him from his mother, Kane uses his sled to resist Thatcher by shoving it into Thatcher’s body. In this sense, the sled serves as a barrier between his carefree youth and the responsibilities of adulthood and marks a turning point in the development of his character. After Thatcher's appearance, Kane's life is never again the same. Later, Thatcher gives Kane another sled, this one named Crusader—aptly named, since Kane will spend his early adulthood on a vengeful crusade against Thatcher. For the second time, Kane uses a sled (or in this case, the idea it represents) as a weapon against the man he sees as an oppressive force, but unlike Rosebud, Crusader carries no suggestion of innocence.

Reportedly, the idea of using the plot device of Rosebud came from writer Herman Mankiewicz. The story goes that he had a bicycle he adored as a child, and he never really recovered when it was stolen. Welles always thought it was a rather cheap idea, but he went along with it because it was an easy way to simplify the plot line.

Snow Globe

The snow globe that falls from Kane’s hand when he dies links the end of his life to his childhood. The scene inside the snow globe is simple, peaceful, and orderly, much like Kane’s life with his parents before Thatcher comes along. The snow globe also associates these qualities with Susan. Kane sees the snow globe for the first time when he meets Susan. On that same night, he’s thinking about his mother, and he even speaks of her, one of only two times he mentions her throughout the film. In his mind, Susan and his mother become linked. Susan, like Kane’s mother, is a simple woman, and Kane enjoys their quiet times in her small apartment where he’s free from the demands of his complex life. Susan eventually leaves him, just as his mother did, and her departure likewise devastates him. As Kane trashes Susan’s room in anger, he finds the snow globe, and the already-thin wall between his childhood and adulthood dissolves. Just as his mother abandoned him once, Susan has abandoned him now, and Kane is powerless to bring back either one.

Statues

Kane repeatedly fails in his attempts to control the people in his life, which perhaps explains his obsession with collecting statues and the appearance of statues throughout the film, since statues can be easily manipulated. Thatcher, threatening and oppressive when alive, is harmless as a large, imposing statue outside the bank where his memoirs are housed. When Kane travels to Europe, he collects so many statues that he begins to acquire duplicates, even though Bernstein has begged him not to buy any more. Kane’s office and home overflow with statues, which he acquires without joy or discrimination. Kane has always aspired to control people, not just the world’s fine art, but puts his energy into collecting statues as his power over people swiftly and fully dissolves. For Kane, statues are nothing more than images of people, easily controlled—he can place them where he wants and even ignore them if he chooses. Over his statues, Kane has power: to acquire, to own, and to control. Statues eventually replace living people in Kane’s life, and he dies surrounded by these figures.