“Rosebud” That simple one-word phrase that Charles Kane utters on his death bed leads us on a quest to understand who this man is and the mystery of Rosebud. Throughout Citizen Kane (1
941), Kane’s identity is revealed through a series of fragments, consisting of stories told from his colleagues, newspaper clippings, and flashbacks. Blakesley (2003) states, “While the aim of rhetoric may be identification (and by implication, a desire for what Burke calls consubstantiality), inscribed within identification we see the corresponding concept of division” (7). For Burke, consubstantiality is to not only be identified with something, but to be different from it at the same time. I believe this is demonstrated in Citizen Kanewith Kane’s identification with a rich successful man, but his distaste for wealth and success at the same time, which is evident when he says, “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man” (Citizen Kane, 1941). We can also see the conflict of Kane’s identity that Welles accentuates through mise-en-scene, which is the use of visual techniques to tell the story through a variety of visually artful ways, including cinematography, stage design and direction.
Bazin (1967) discusses the innovative techniques that Welles used, including the film technique that manipulated the actor’s physical proximity to one another.
I noticed two instances of Welles’ leveraging visual film techniques to manipulate the physical proximity between actors to convey Kane’s identity. The first time I noticed this was in the scene in which Gettys is blackmailing Kane. Welles uses a low-angled shot to demonstrate the heightened importance of Kane. This technique is so overt that it almost appears as if Kane is looming over them.
Contrast this with the scene in which Kane is with Thatcher and Leland, in which he laments about his wealth, saying, “I always gagged on that silver spoon” (1941). When Kane is at the table, the window in the background appears to be of normal height, however, as Kane walks away, he seemingly shrinks and the window engulfs him, becoming larger than life. This visual trickery represents his shrinking sense of identity associated with power and success.
This theme of Kane’s identity comes full circle when we see the sled burning in the flames, branded “Rosebud”, and we finally learn the mystery behind the word. “Rosebud” represents Kane’s identify of himself as a child and we can hark back to the snowy scene at the beginning of the movie that signified the end of his childhood. I believe this ties in to my earlier sentiment that Kane struggles with his identity. That day in the snow with his trusty “Rosebud” represents the day he started his trek to obtain wealth and in the process, abandon his family, which haunts him his entire life. While he says, “I will die richer than I was born”, this is only in monetary terms, not in life’s other riches.
Bazin, André. “The Technique of Citizen Kane” What Is Cinema? Essays, University of California Press, 1967, pp. 231–239.
Blakesley, David. The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Southern Illinois University Press, 2007.
Welles, Orson. Citizen Kane. New York: Mercury Theater for RKO Radio Pictures Corp, 1941.