Leff, Leonard J. "Reading Kane." University of California Press; Film Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 10-21
In this article, critic Leonard J. Leff comments on the meaning of Rosebud.
Leonard Leff aims to examine and explain certain questions regarding Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. He writes that he wants to comment about the arranger of the images, the audience, and a method of reading the film that would allow one to understand his or her reactions to viewing the film and understand the meaning of what they are seeing. Leff begins by describing the methods of presentation of the character Charles Foster Kane by following the journey of Jerry Thompson, the newsreel reporter asked to discover the meaning of Kane’s last word “rosebud.” The history of Kane’s life is given as a summation of the experiences of those few people closest to him. Though Leff mentions the contributions of Kane’s second wife, Susan Alexander, and his long time companion Mr. Thatcher, he focuses on the revelations from Kane’s personal diary. From this point, the author moves his focus to the symbolic meaning of the sled called “Rosebud.” Does the sled give insight into Kane’s life? Does it help the audience understand the character? Can it be seen as a “missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle?”
Mr. Leff’s explanation of the meaning of the sled gives fascinating insight into Charles Kane’s persona. Rosebud is a sled. It is the sled that Kane was playing with on the day he was sent away from his home and his parents. Leff goes as far as to try to relate the sled as a symbol of Kane’s past – a symbol of his home before his great wealth. Leff writes of Kane’s reaction to leaving is mother, “From Charles’s sullen face, the film cuts to neither Thatcher nor the father. Instead, it dissolves to the boy’s sled. The sound of a train whistle far in the distance, connoting Kane and his guardian’s movement east…” Is the sled a huge puzzle that offers closure to the film? Leff argues that the film affirms this. The viewer is given a huge “rush” -- the timpani rolls, the music retards and crescendos, and the camera slowly zooms into “Rosebud.” The revelation may not solve anything because Mr. Thompson never makes the discovery, but the viewer is given a sense of closure.