Study Guide

Citizen Kane Themes

  • Wealth

    Our Chuckie, the Mr. Kane of Citizen Kane, is excruciatingly wealthy. Insanely wealthy. Over-the-top amounts of cash.

    It wasn't always the case, though. As a boy, Charles grew up in a modest boarding house run by his mom. But one day, a deadbeat tenant at the house decided to pay his bill by giving a coal mine. But too much moolah—coupled with too little love—ends up making Kane worse off in the long run because it turns him into a selfish monster.

    Questions About Wealth

    1. When do you think Kane's wealth turns him from good to bad? Why is it at this point specifically?
    2. Where does Kane's wealth come from? What eventually happens to his wealth?
    3. How does Kane tend to spend his money? What does it tell us about him?
    4. What does Kane think about the other wealthy men of America? How does he think he's different?

    Chew on This

    In Citizen Kane, we learn that wealth will often turn a good person into a bad one.

    Citizen Kane shows us that the only way to fight big money is to have big money of your own.

  • Love

    The only thing Charles Kane wants out of life is love. The problem is that he has no clue how to go about getting it.

    He spends his whole life—and all of Citizen Kane—trying to use his money to make people like him, and when that doesn't work he just throws more and more money around.

    But it isn't all Charles' fault. After all, what do you expect from a boy who was raised by a bank instead of his parents? Instead of love, money governed his young years, so it's natural that he thinks money should control all his relationships with people. Sadly, this is the core belief that ends up ruining his life.

    Questions About Love

    1. Who is the first person that tells Charles that he tries to "buy" people's love? How does Charles react?
    2. Do you agree with Kane when he says that people can only love on their own selfish terms and that there's no such thing as true two-way partnership? Why or why not?
    3. How do you think Charles would have turned out if he'd grown up with his parents instead of Mr. Thatcher at the bank? Why?

    Chew on This

    Citizen Kane shows us that money can never possibly compensate for the loss of a mother's love.

    Citizen Kane demonstrates how growing up with money will warp a child's experience of love and make them think that money can bring them other people's love.

  • Society and Class

    Charles Foster Kane likes to think of himself as a champion of the workingman. But the big trouble is that he thinks of himself as a sort of messiah whose job it is to give poor people the gift of respect and freedom.

    What he doesn't realize is that people have a right to respect and freedom as human beings. They're not just all waiting around for our man Citizen Kane to save them. All Kane ever has to do is let people decide what's best for themselves. But he is such a control freak that he wants everything to happen according to his terms—even social revolutions. And as we all find out, this strategy doesn't pan out so well.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Do you think it's fair to say that Charles Foster Kane is a "friend of the workingman?" Why or why not?
    2. Where do we first get the sense that Kane's class crusade is going to go wrong? Why?
    3. Why is Kane hated by both the rich and the working class of America? Try backing up your answer with direct evidence from the movie.

    Chew on This

    In Citizen Kane, we learn that all class warfare is doomed to fail because people's egos get in the way.

    Citizen Kane reminds us that if you want to fight the rich, you have to have some money of your own to fight them with.

  • Power

    It's almost impossible for Charles Kane to separate his concept of love from his concept of power. Yes, this is unhealthy. (You had to ask?)

    In his mind, love is something you force people to give you by throwing money and favors at them. He even tries to get power by becoming the governor of New York. But that whole thing blows up in his face when he gets caught in a sexual affair with Susan Alexander. The affair never needs to come to light, but it does because Kane refuses to let anyone have power over him and pretty much dares the blackmailer to release the facts about the affair. His inability to accept his own weakness undermines him at this point… and continues undermining him throughout the rest of Citizen Kane.

    Questions About Power

    1. Is there anyone in this movie who has power over Charles Kane? Why or why not?
    2. At what point in his life does Kane have the most power? Why?
    3. When does Kane's power go away? Why?

    Chew on This

    In Citizen Kane, we learn that power doesn't mean much if you've got no one to hold it over.

    Citizen Kane shows us that power can never force people to love you.

  • Innocence

    Citizen Kane revolves around the image of Charles Kane's childhood sled, "Rosebud." And as a symbol, it does a good job of representing the innocence that Charles once had as a little boy. That all seemed to go away, though, the moment he left home to be raised by Mr. Thatcher from the bank.

    We can see that somewhere deep down, the young Charles knows that something is about to be taken away from him. That's why he pushes Thatcher away and tries to run. But in the end, he can't escape the plans that have been laid out for him, and these plans end up costing him his boyhood innocence.

    Questions About Innocence

    1. How does Rosebud symbolize Charles Kane's lost innocence? Try using specific evidence from the text to back up your answer.
    2. Which characters, if any, manage to keep their innocence in this movie? Why or why not?
    3. How is the loss of innocence connected to Kane's general downfall in old age?

    Chew on This

    Citizen Kane shows us that innocence is something you can never get back once it's gone.

    It's not fair to say that Kane's loss of innocence is bad. After all, it's impossible to control a large fortune without becoming a little cynical.

  • Pride

    Charles Kane ain't nothing if he ain't proud. Time and time again, some of his closest friends call him on abandoning his core values.

    But does Charles respond well to these challenges like a good friend? Nope, it's just the opposite. Throughout Citizen Kane, he totally isolates himself from anyone who questions him too much, and this all comes down to the fact that he's too proud to ever admit that he's wrong. Even when Boss Geddes tries to blackmail him out of the election for governor, Charles refuses to back down… even though he ends up destroying his family in the process.

    Questions About Pride

    1. Is Charles always a proud guy, or is there a particular point in his life where it gets out of control? Why?
    2. Is there anyone else in this movie that is just as proud as Charles? Why or why not?
    3. Is there any way Charles would have been better off if he'd been more humble? How might his life have gone differently?

    Chew on This

    In Citizen Kane, we learn that pride (as always) is the number one cause of a man's downfall.

    Citizen Kane reminds us that pride is a great thing if you are wise enough to know when you're wrong.