Study Guide

Citizen Kane Power

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NARRATOR: Kane, molder of mass opinion though he was, in all his life was never granted elective office by the voters of his country.

Charles Kane had huge power over people's opinions. But for several reasons, he was never able to use this power to win an election. Sure, he came close. But in the end, he never learned that power and money aren't enough to make a person likeable.

NARRATOR: Few, like one-time Congressman Hearst, have ever run for any office—most know better—conclude with other political observers that one man's press has power enough for himself.

There have been rich and powerful Americans who have run for political office. But on many occasions, history has shown that money alone isn't enough to win an election. You actually have to be kind of likeable.

LELAND: I don't suppose anybody ever had so many opinions. That was because he had the power to express them, and Charlie lived on power and the excitement of using it. But he didn't believe in anything except Charlie Kane.

Looking back on his friendship with Charles, Leland thinks about how Charles had all kinds of opinions because he had the power to make people listen. After all, you can have an opinion on just about anything when you own a dozen or so newspapers. Other people might have good opinions too, but no one will ever hear them because these people don't have the power Kane does.

LELAND: You want love on your own terms, don't you, Charlie? Love according to your own rules.

One of Kane's biggest flaws is that he needs everything on his own terms. He's been rich his whole life and he's used to servants doing what he wants. So he assumes that love is just like anything else in his life—something that can be had completely on his own terms.

KANE: To love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody knows... his own.

In Kane's mind, it's impossible to do anything on anyone's terms other than his own. He assumes that every other person in the world feels the same way, but he's probably wrong on this. Or to put it another way, there are probably different degrees to which people need things on their own terms. People like Kane are on one end, and people who end up in happy relationships are on the other.

SUSAN: That's what it's been from the first moment I met you. No matter how much it cost you—your time, your money—that's what you've done with everybody you've ever known. Tried to bribe them!

According to Susan, Charles has no clue how to deal with people. He wants everyone to love him, but he thinks of love as something he can get if he just uses his power. He doesn't realize that love isn't something you win after you've auditioned for people's attention. You can't earn it with great accomplishments. You need to be vulnerable and give some love yourself. That's the part that Kane never really understands.

EMILY: People will think—
KANE: What I tell them to think.

Kane is pretty clear on what he thinks of the general public, especially the part of the public that reads his newspapers. In his own words, people will think whatever he tells them to. In his mind, the common people are too dumb and poor to stand up for themselves, so they need a hero like him to save them. Unfortunately, there's not much point to being a hero if you don't respect the people you're trying to help.

NARRATOR: For forty years appeared in Kane newsprint no public issue on which Kane papers took no stand. No public man whom Kane himself did not support or denounce—often support, then denounce.

Media moguls have always had a lot of power in America. But back in the days of Citizen Kane, men who owned lots of newspapers had the power to sway entire elections and mold public opinion on almost any issue. And that's exactly why Kane has no trouble taking clear positions in all of his newspapers. He doesn't even pretend to report the news objectively.

NARRATOR: For wife two, one-time opera singing Susan Alexander, Kane built Chicago's Municipal Opera House. Cost: three million dollars.

Kane likes getting things his own way, and whenever reality doesn't agree with him, he tries to use his money to smash a hole through reality itself. For example, look at his attempts to make his second wife Susan into a famous singer. Everyone knows she'll never have the talent to do it, but Kane plunks down three million dollars just to build her an opera house to perform in. Now that's what you call trying to make a fantasy a reality.

THATCHER: It is my considered belief that Mr. Charles Foster Kane, in every essence of his social beliefs and by the dangerous manner in which he has persistently attacked the American traditions of private property, initiative and opportunity for advancement, is in fact nothing more or less than a Communist.

It's true that Charles Kane has a lot of money and power. But do you know who else does, too? All of the rich people in America that Kane attacks with his newspapers. Even his former legal guardian, Mr. Thatcher, calls Kane a Communist in a public meeting. This just goes to show that when you attack the rich, you have to be ready for a war.

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