Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Journal Entry #2: Citizen Kane

Journal Question: Choose one symbol from the film (for example, puzzle, newsreel/print, snow globe, Rosebud ) and critically assess how Wells uses it to deconstruct the biopic. Pinpoint 1 to 2 key series / sequences in your analysis.

In a 1960 interview, Orson Welles said, "I'm ashamed of Rosebud. I think it's a rather tawdry device. It's the thing I like least in Kane. It's kind of a dollar-book Freudian gag, you know. It doesn't stand up very well."

I am not sure he was right. There is an argument that the symbol still stands and stand up well.

The sled (with the Rosebud emblazoned on it) is a trope for a lost childhood. And this was a sled that seems to be on a slippery slope. Kane never had 2 loving parents. The father was abusive, and who knows if the coldness of the mother was due to that family abuse against her as well, or not. She had packed the child’s clothes a week earlier, knowing he must leave. Her face is motionless. Her mind is made up. She is now in charge – she has the money, but it is the child who has to leave and not the husband.

Perhaps the Rosebud is deconstructed the trope of an innocent child going out into the world in this way: he turned the trope on its head, and the child will never flower, never blossom, and the rose will never be able to cup the child in its fragrance.

Is Wells deconstructing a biopic trope where a child who has nothing goes on to a magnificent future. Is Orson Wells turning that trope on its head, and showing that the child can grow up and begin a descent into madness because he is suffering a loss he will never recover from.

We see the burning of the sled (with it’s Rosebud trademark).

We see the sled being thrown into Mr. Thatcher’s stomach, so here we have the sled as a weapon.
Kane drops the globe from his hand and calls out “Rosebud”. The globe is a time-capsule for the snowy childhood dream of innocence. But what does it represent?

The child outside of the family house.

The child in the snow.

The child throwing snowballs at the patriarchal window of his home.

So when we see the globe cracking and the hear the word Rosebud, we are alive to the fact that the dream of a warm family unit that Hurst held, is smashed in death, in the same fashion that it was never allowed to blossom in life.

If I am to understand that a trope is a shift in the meaning of a word, then the word rosebud has shifted from a meaning of that which is about to flower, to that of a flower frozen in time and never to mature. Not only is the globe smashed, but the sled that has the name Rosebud is either stored, unused, or burned.

A trope is a figure that shifts its meaning by adding meaning to its original idea. In fact, in Citizen Kane, the meaning of rosebud is frozen on the sled and later the rosebud is seen burning on the sled. There is no growth (for the child or the rose), but only stasis for 70 years and then the idea of flowering is either smashed or burned.

I have been thinking about deductions we could draw about the sled and the mother. She sent her child away, but kept the sled as one of her cherished possessions. If she had been cold and heartless (as her face could have been read in the film), why would the sled have ended up as something she kept until she died. She was a rich woman. Instead did she sacrifice by sending Kane to what she thought would be a better place for him, away from his abusive father and a place where she hoped her money would bring him upward mobility?

The movie’s voice-over tells us that “to boarding housekeeper Mary Kane, by a defaulting boarder, in 1868 was left the supposedly worthless deed to an abandoned mine shaft”.

Would it be logical to suppose that this was a kind and good, though poor woman who kept a boarder alive who couldn’t pay her ... and when he died, he left her all he had, a deed to an abandoned mine shaft.

This seems like a woman with more heart than the man she was married to. While she was taking care of penniless boarders, the father says about his own child, “What that kid needs is a good thrashing.”

His mother retorts, That's why he's going to be brought up where you can't get at him.

I think we can read that in the 1940’s, even if a woman had all of the money in the world, she couldn’t stop her partner from abusing the child they have if that child was living with them.

Perhaps the Rosebud is the small child that she sent away, hoping he would have a chance to one day flower.


  1. Nice. I think your criticism is at its strongest when you employ an epigrammatic style combined with rich, exploratory symbolic, thematic, and narrative investigation. Curious and engaging film study.