The film, Citizen Kane tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a millionaire newspaper owner and the mystery that surrounds his dying words, "Rosebud". A reporter named Thompson is given the assignment of finding out what is the meaning of "Rosebud" and what is its significance. He does so by interviewing four people, Kane's ex-wife, an old friend, a business associate and his butler. The film is about trying to uncover the past of a well-known public figure who turns out to be a not so well-known private one. When Thompson goes to read the diary of Mr. Thatcher, the viewer is brought into the past of Charles Foster Kane for the first time. As a young child, Kane's parents, mostly his mother, decided to give him up to become property of Mr. Thatcher and the bank, in return for sole ownership of the Colorado Lode and $50,000 a year.
Charles was to be brought up rich in order to prepare him for his future. This event is something that will influence his behavior for the rest of his life. The quote, "...The child is the father of the man..." applies to the life of Mr. Kane. Citizen Kane deals with a somewhat Freudian theme of how an episode in one's childhood can affect them for the rest of their adult lives.
Charles Foster Kane's childhood was unpleasant, to say the least. He grew up with an abusive father and a mother who basically sold him for a lifetime of financial security.
As a result, Charles is left scarred with abandonment issues and the lack of a truly loving relationship, whether it be friendly, romantic, or family. Charles's past controls his future and he is helpless against it. As an adult, he becomes exactly what he was raised to be, almost as if he were bred like a racehorse. Obviously he becomes a multi-millionaire, but he is also incapable of getting too close with any individual. He even refers to his friends by their last names. Charles Foster Kane tries to make up for this with an individualistic attitude, wanting everything on his terms, but this is simply a cover-up for the real issue.
Kane uses his money to compensate for what he lacks in character. What he does not possess, he purchases. For example, Charles does not have any close relationships so he purchases an army of statues to keep him company. He also builds a palace to himself, complete with a large personal zoo and enough art to be considered a museum. This is an extreme case of overcompensation.
Although Thompson does learn a great deal about his interviewees' relationships with, and opinions about Charles Foster Kane, no one seems to know anything beyond that. No one knows of his past, especially not the significance of his famous last words, "Rosebud". In the final scene of the movie, when Kane's belongings that were stored in the warehouse were being burned, the viewer finds out that "Rosebud" was the name of the sled he was playing with on his last day with his parents, before he was taken away by Mr. Thatcher. The sled represents Charles Foster Kane's lost childhood. The memory of the sled is Charle's last fond childhood memory as well as his first unpleasant one.
"Rosebud" is what he has in his hand when his parents tell him he is going to live with Mr.
Thatcher and it is what he uses to push him, in a desperate attempt not to be taken away from his parents.
In the scene that follows this, the sled is shown by itself, with snow piling on top of it. This foreshadows that the sled will have some significance later in the movie, but most people probably will not guess how significant it really is. "Rosebud" is important to Kane because he feels it is his only link to his past. Also, the fact that it ends up being stored away in a warehouse, lost amongst all his possessions could be symbolic of the fact that Kane lost everything truly meaningful in his excessive amount of material objects. He was never able to love, only to provide his wives with anything they wanted. Moreover, he was also unable to achieve true happiness, only to accumulate an exorbitant amount of expensive items and spend his endless supply of money on anything he wanted.
Consequently, "Rosebud" represents everything in Kane's life that he never experienced or possessed. That is why he said it right before his death, it was his one major regret in an otherwise extremely fortunate life. Furthermore, Kane has had two failed marriages. His first was to a President's niece who left him for reasons that are not told in the movie. It is then learned that he marries his second wife, Susan Alexander, only two weeks later. This marriage is obviously superficial and an example of how Kane is drawn to those he feels he can have control over. Furthermore, since Kane never truly received love as a child and was instead bought anything he wanted, he is unable to love and tries to buy it by showering his women with expensive gifts.
Susan is a young girl who dreams of being a singer. This is the original, and perhaps only, thing that draws Kane to her. He sees in her a vulnerability, a way he can control her. Kane gets her a singing teacher and then proceeds to build an opera house for her to perform at, in order to make her a star. As the film progress Susan makes it quite obvious that she does not enjoy this but Kane forces her to stay with it. This is where Charles Foster Kane appears to be quite disturbed. He is not concerned with his wife's thought or opinions, she is simply there to amuse him.
Charles knows that he does not truly love Susan. He has never truly loved anyone, except perhaps his mother before he was separated from her. His childhood gave him a fear of love and interpersonal relationships. Kane is afraid to make himself vulnerable, he is afraid he will only to be crushed if he is abandoned again.
Citizen Kane teaches the old lesson of "money can't buy happiness". It gives a glimpse into the life a man who seems to have everything anyone could ever dream of, except a close relationship. The fact that the story is told after Kane has died stresses the point even further that no one ever truly got to know him and now no one ever will. His last cry of "Rosebud" represents his first and last attempt to let someone hear about his personal torment.