Citizen Kane (1941)

Brief Intro

“Citizen Kane” is a 1941 American drama film by Orson Welles, its director, co-producer, co-screenwriter, and star. Hailed as one of the greatest films ever made, it follows the life of Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper magnate, through the perspectives of those who knew him, revealing a complex portrait of a man who sought love and power.

Literary Devices Used in Citizen Kane

“Citizen Kane” is rich with literary devices, each enhancing the storytelling and depth of the film. Here’s a look at ten such devices used in the movie:

1. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
The recurring motif of “Rosebud”Symbolizes Kane’s lost innocence and the simplicity of his childhood.
The use of mirrors in the final sceneReflects the multiple facets of Kane’s personality and the ultimate fragmentation of his life.

2. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
The opening sequence showing Xanadu’s decrepit stateForeshadows Kane’s lonely and broken end.
Kane’s declaration of principles when he acquires the New York InquirerSets the stage for his eventual corruption and moral decline.

3. Flashback

Movie SceneDevice Example
The newsreel’s recap of Kane’s lifeProvides a retrospective view of his rise and fall.
Interviews with Susan Alexander and Jed LelandRevisit key moments in Kane’s life from different perspectives.

4. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
Kane’s vast wealth and material success juxtaposed with his emotional povertyHighlights the irony of his unfulfilled personal life.
Kane clapping alone in the opera house after Susan’s poor performanceIllustrates the disparity between his expectations and reality.

5. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
Kane’s castle-like mansion, XanaduRepresents his isolation and self-imposed exile from society.
The breaking of the snow globeMetaphor for the shattering of Kane’s dream and innocence.

6. Allusion

Movie SceneDevice Example
References to real-life figures and events in the newsreelAllude to the political climate and media influence of the era.
The character of Kane modeled after William Randolph HearstSuggests parallels between Kane’s life and Hearst’s.

7. Hyperbole

Movie SceneDevice Example
Kane’s extravagant lifestyle and palaceExaggerates his power and ego.
The dramatic aging makeupAmplifies the passage of time and Kane’s downfall.

8. Personification

Movie SceneDevice Example
Xanadu’s almost human-like eerie presence throughout the filmEmbodies Kane’s haunted past.
The Inquirer’s portrayal as a living entity influencing public opinionPersonifies the power of the press.

9. Simile

Movie SceneDevice Example
Kane compared to a “knight at the lists” by one of his colleaguesLikens his ambitious pursuits to medieval quests.
Susan’s singing described as “sounding like a bird”Critiques her skill in a diminishing yet picturesque way.

10. Oxymoron

Movie SceneDevice Example
Descriptions of Kane as a “well-loved tyrant”Combines conflicting qualities to highlight the complexity of his character.
Kane’s final moments in a “glorious ruin” of XanaduJuxtaposes grandeur with decay.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies:

In “Citizen Kane,” the characters are richly developed through the use of various literary devices that reveal their traits and complexities. Here’s how these devices play out for the main characters:

Charles Foster Kane
Literary DeviceExplanation
SymbolismThe ‘Declaration of Principles’ he writes symbolizes his initial idealism and eventual hypocrisy.
IronyHis pursuit of love and acceptance results ironically in isolation and alienation from those he tries to draw close.
Susan Alexander Kane
Literary DeviceExplanation
MetaphorSusan’s opera career is a metaphor for Kane’s control over her life and desires, showcasing his domineering nature.
HyperboleHer exaggerated incompetence in opera underscores the tragedy of living a life not self-chosen but imposed by Kane.
Jedediah Leland
Literary DeviceExplanation
ForeshadowingLeland’s early skepticism about Kane’s ‘Declaration of Principles’ foreshadows Kane’s moral downfall.
FlashbackHis recollections serve to reveal the changes in Kane over the years, highlighting the loss of his idealism.

Character Dynamics:

The relationships between characters in “Citizen Kane” are a driving force behind the narrative, deeply intertwined with the film’s literary devices to enhance the thematic complexity.

  • Kane and Susan Alexander: Their relationship is marked by power dynamics where Kane’s attempt to shape Susan into an opera star despite her lack of talent reflects his broader desire to manipulate and control his environment, ultimately leading to mutual resentment and despair.
  • Kane and Jedediah Leland: This friendship illustrates the theme of integrity versus corruption. Leland’s eventual disillusionment with Kane serves as a moral barometer, measuring Kane’s drift from his youthful ideals to his final days of lonely decadence.

Thematic Analysis

“Citizen Kane” explores several deep themes through its use of literary devices. Here’s how some of the primary themes are highlighted:

The Corrupting Power of Wealth

Literary DeviceExplanation
SymbolismThe opulence of Xanadu symbolizes the excessive power and isolation brought by immense wealth.
IronyKane’s vast wealth ironically brings him more misery than happiness, highlighting the theme that wealth can corrupt and alienate.

The Elusiveness of Truth

Literary DeviceExplanation
FlashbackThe use of multiple perspectives to recount Kane’s life suggests that truth is multifaceted and elusive.
AllusionReferences to the real-life complexities of media magnate William Randolph Hearst add a layer of historical commentary on the subjective nature of truth in media.

The Loss of Innocence

Literary DeviceExplanation
MetaphorThe snow globe, representing Kane’s childhood, shatters, symbolizing the loss of innocence.
ForeshadowingEarly scenes of a young, idealistic Kane foreshadow his transformation into a jaded, cynical figure, paralleling the loss of personal innocence with moral decline.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

In “Citizen Kane”, the fusion of cinematic and literary techniques creates a unique narrative depth. Here’s how these elements work together:

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismDeep focus cinematographyAllows for multiple elements to be in focus simultaneously, such as the young Kane playing in the snow through the window while his future is being decided inside, deepening the symbolic weight of his lost freedom and innocence.
IronyDramatic irony through visual and audio mismatchShowcases scenes like Kane applauding in an empty opera house, where the visual grandeur contrasts starkly with the auditory reality of Susan’s poor performance.
FlashbackNon-linear narrative structureBy recounting Kane’s story through flashbacks from different viewpoints, the film challenges the viewer’s perception of truth and memory, enhancing the narrative complexity.

Key Scene Analysis

In “Citizen Kane”, several key scenes leverage both literary and cinematic techniques to contribute profoundly to the film’s overall impact. Here’s a breakdown of these pivotal moments:

Scene Selection:

  1. The Opening Sequence (Xanadu’s Nocturnal Silence)
    • YouTube Link: Xanadu’s Opening Scene
    • Scene Breakdown: The opening shot of Kane’s sprawling, silent estate, shrouded in mist and mystery, sets the tone for the film. It uses symbolism (the imposing castle symbolizing Kane’s isolation) and foreshadowing (the decrepit state hinting at his downfall). The eerie silence juxtaposed with the grandeur visually emphasizes his ultimate loneliness.
  2. Kane’s Declaration of Principles
    • YouTube Link: Kane’s Declaration
    • Scene Breakdown: This scene, where Kane ambitiously drafts his Declaration of Principles, showcases dramatic irony and foreshadowing. The earnestness in his declaration is contrasted by Leland’s skeptical reaction and the later revelation of Kane’s ethical compromises, highlighting his moral decline.
  3. Susan’s Opera Debut
    • YouTube Link: Susan’s Opera Performance
    • Scene Breakdown: Susan’s forced opera performance, where Kane claps alone in an otherwise unenthusiastic audience, uses irony to underline Kane’s delusion and desperation. The scene’s framing, focusing on Kane’s alone clapping amidst a sea of silence, enhances the tragic irony of his misguided aspirations for Susan.
  4. The ‘Rosebud’ Revelation
    • YouTube Link: Rosebud Revelation
    • Scene Breakdown: The final revelation that ‘Rosebud’ refers to Kane’s childhood sled is a poignant moment of symbolism and irony. The sled, a lost artifact of his happiest memories, symbolizes what he traded for power and prestige. The scene’s slow zoom on the sled burning in Xanadu’s furnace powerfully signifies the destruction of his innocence.


“Citizen Kane” is a masterclass in film narrative, weaving literary devices and cinematic techniques into a rich tapestry that explores the complexities of human nature, the pursuit of power, and the elusive nature of truth and happiness. Through its sophisticated use of symbolism, irony, foreshadowing, and more, the film offers a profound commentary on the American Dream and the paradoxes within.

Interactive Quiz

Test your understanding of the literary devices used in “Citizen Kane” with this quick quiz! 🎬✨

  1. What does the symbol ‘Rosebud’ represent in the film?
    • A) Kane’s wealth
    • B) Kane’s lost innocence
    • C) Kane’s political ambitions
    • D) Susan’s opera career
  2. Which literary device is used in the scene of Susan’s opera debut?
  3. How does the opening sequence of Xanadu contribute to the film’s themes?
    • A) It shows Kane’s happiness
    • B) It foreshadows Kane’s isolation and downfall
    • C) It highlights Kane’s popularity
    • D) It showcases Susan’s talent
  4. What does the non-linear narrative structure of the film enhance?
    • A) The musical score
    • B) The complexity of the narrative
    • C) The set design
    • D) The costume authenticity

Feel free to share your answers and thoughts in the comments below! Let’s see how well you’ve grasped the intricate artistry of “Citizen Kane”! 📽️🎉