Study Guide

Citizen Kane Society and Class

Society and Class

KANE SENIOR: You're going to be rich. Your Ma figures—that is—she and I have decided that this isn't the place for you to grow up in.

When Charles Kane is just a young boy, his mother sends him away from home so he can be properly educated and kept away from his sometimes-abusive father. Now that they have money, Mrs. Kane wants to make sure that Charles doesn't grow up with his rude and dirty father as a role model. She wants him to act like a proper rich person, which actually ends up causing most of his problems later on.

LELAND: You talk about giving them their rights as though you could make a present of liberty. Remember the working man? You used to defend him quite a good deal.

From the very beginning, Leland has been critical of Kane because he knows the guy's ego might get in the way of his crusade to help the working men of America. Over time, Kane's ego gets bigger and his actually concern for poor people shrinks. And as much as Leland hates to say, "I told you so," he can't help himself in this scene.

LELAND: Well, he's turning into something called organized labor and you don't like that at all. And listen, when your precious underprivileged really get together—that's going to add up to something bigger than—than your privilege.

Leland knows that Charles Kane doesn't like the organized labor movement in America because it will allow working people to take control of their own rights instead of waiting for Kane to give these rights as a gift to them. Kane wants to be loved as a savior, but the working people are going to cut him out entirely.

SPEECH MAKER: […] till the words "Charles Foster Kane" are a menace to every workingman in this land. He is today what he has always been and always will be: a fascist.

The rich folks of America like to call Kane a communist while the working people call him a fascist. And in a way, they're both right. Kane's attacks on private property make him look like a communist to some. But the working class also recognizes his insane thirst for power, which is pretty dang fascistic.

KANE: I am the publisher of The Inquirer. As such, it is my duty—I'll let you in on a little secret, it is also my pleasure—to see to it that decent, hard-working people of this city are not robbed blind by a group of money-mad pirates because, God help them, they have no one to look after their interests!

Despite what people say about him, a young Charles Kane is determined to use his wealth and privilege to fight for the rights of poor people who can't fight for themselves. As a newspaper publisher, Kane also thinks it's his duty and pleasure to use his influence to turn Americans against the rich and corrupt.

KANE: If I don't defend the interests of the underprivileged, somebody else will—maybe somebody without any money or any property. And that would be too bad.

It's not clear if Kane is being tongue-in-cheek here. On the one hand, he might be warning the rich Thatcher that one day, workers will rise up to win their rights by force. But on the other hand, Kane might actually resent the idea that anyone other than him might become the savior of the workers.

KANE: I've come here to tell you that, unless some action is taken promptly—and you are the only one who can take it—the oil that is the property of the people of this country will be turned over for a song to a gang of high-pressure crooks!

Kane is determined to make sure that the people of America all get to benefit from the wealth created by the country, especially if that wealth comes right out of the ground in the form of oil. But without someone speaking up for the working class, Kane is convinced that the rich will just take everything for themselves.

KANE: The personal note is all there is to it. It's all there ever is to it. It's all there ever is to anything! Stupidity in our government, complacency and self-satisfaction and unwillingness to believe that anything done by a certain class of people can be wrong— you can't fight those things impersonally.

People might tell Kane that he needs to deliver the news objectively, but he insists that being subjective is the whole point of a newspaper. He can't stand idly by while rich and corrupt people take over his country and report the news objectively. He needs to tell the world these people are crooked and that they should all be thrown out of office.

THATCHER: They're all part of your general attack—your senseless attack—on everything and everybody who's got more than ten cents in his pocket.

Thatcher is convinced that Kane is engaging in class warfare when he attacks rich people. But in Kane's mind, he's just looking out for the interests of ordinary people. And this makes sense, since most of the newspapers in the U.S. are owned by rich dudes who want to keep the working class down.

THATCHER: I think I should remind you, Charles, of a fact you seem to have forgotten. You are yourself one of the largest individual stockholders.

Thatcher thinks he'll get Kane to back off when he tells him that one of the companies Kane's attacking is one he owns stock in. But Kane doesn't care. As a rash young man, he's happy to throw away millions of dollars just to make a point.