Rhetorical Analysis of Citizen Kane’s Speech
To many individuals, Citizen Kane’s campaign promise speech is an example of the strength of conviction of Citizen Kane’s resolve to end corruption. But in deeper analysis one finds that his speech is a collection of faulty logic constructed upon emotionally charged rhetoric. The point of the speech seems to be about Kane making campaign promises, but instead becomes an attack on the character Jim Getty.
The speech begins with a campaigner announcing Kane to the audience and in this opening can be found the first use of rhetorical devices. “…Charles Foster Kane, the fighting liberal, the friend of the working man, the next Governor of this State, who entered upon this campaign — ” (Welles, 1941) This use of alliteration and asyndeton charges the listener or reader with positive feelings about Kane as their leader.
The next form of rhetoric comes in the form of anadiplosis. This device is present in the third and fourth paragraph of the speech. The first occurrence the name “Jim Getty” is repeated and the second occurrence is the repetition of the words “slum child.” (Welles, 1941) By ending one clause and starting the next with same words anadiplosis creates a dramatic pause in the speech giving strength to the orator.
Aposiopesis is another form of common rhetoric used in the speech delivered by Kane. In each of the first four paragraphs this form of rhetoric appears. In each occurrence the abrupt ending of the sentence gives weight to Kanes speech. (Welles, 1941) This abrupt ending provides dramatic pause and gives the reader or listener the belief that this is a statement of importance.
The use of enthymemes in Kane’s speech gives a dramatic flair and comedic distraction. Used three times, in the second, third and fifth paragraph, these syllogisms contain unstated premises that when inferred by the audience, give strength to Kane and provide comedic relief. When Kane says that he has not made any campaign promises because he did know he had a chance of winning, is an excellent example of this form of rhetoric. There is an unstated premise that there is no need to make a campaign promise if one is not going to win. This is a form of circular logic and has no meaning, but does make the audience laugh thus providing comedic relief.
The second example of enthymeme is in the third paragraph when Kane states that he can now afford to make a campaign promise. The unstated conclusion to this syllogism is that because he knows that he is going to win he can therefore afford to make promises. This continuation of circular reasoning again provides comedic relief evidenced by the audience’s laughter.
Finally the third enthymeme is again a continuation of this same circular logic applied to the subject of campaign promises. Kane states, “Well, I’d make my promises now if I weren’t too busy arranging to keep them.” (Welles, 1941) The implied premise is that Kane is busy arranging to keep his promises to have time to state them. This is nonsensical at best and gives the illusion that Kane is so busy working for the welfare of his constituency that there is no time to state what exactly he is doing. Again, this rhetorical device provides comic relief and gives an air of strength to Kane.
Embedded in Kane’s use of rhetorical devices, exists very few arguments. There are many claims stated, but no evidence is given to support these claims. In fact, the closest resemblance to an actual argument is the initial claim made by the campaigner and Kane, that Kane entered the race with only one purpose; “to point out and make public the dishonesty, the downright villainy, of Boss Jim W. Gettys’ political machine — ” (Welles, 1941)
Kane seems to support this claim through the use of the ad hominem fallacy. Kane continuously attacks Getty’s character with epithets. The use of the words “evil” and “villainy” invoke negative feelings in the listener or reader, but remain hollow accusations.
There is unclearness whether Kane is just grandstanding for campaign purposes, or he is trying to state his campaign promises. If one assumes that Kane is trying to make campaign promises, then most of the speech becomes evidence of a red herring argument. Kane, instead of giving campaign promises, attacks Getty and assumes the position that he has made his campaign promises. This same fallacy could also be seen as a form of scapegoating. Kane seems to dodge any normal campaign questions by building his entire political platform on blaming Jim Getty and accusing him of corruption.
To say that Kane is biased is a terrible understatement. Considering that Kane’s entire campaign purpose is to expose Jim Getty as fraudulent and corrupt, Kane’s bias is obvious. Kane makes no attempt to hide his feelings toward Getty as he publicly attacks Getty’s character.
This speech is a perfect example of rhetoric and fallacy masquerading as strong conviction of character. The overuse of rhetorical devices cohered with unsubstantiated claims gives an impression to the listener or reader that they are hearing a speech wrought from virtue and an appeal to justice. But under close scrutiny, Kane’s speech fails to provide a single valid argument. Even Kane’s attack on the character of Getty is fallacious in that it provides no proof to support its claims.
Welles, O (1941). Citizen Kane. Retrieved June 7, 2009, from American Rhetoric Web site: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechcitizenkane2.html
Labossiere, M (1995). The Nizkor Project/Fallacies. Retrieved June 4, 2009, from The Nizkor Project Web site: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/
Harris, R (2008). Virtual salt A handbook of rehtorical devices. Retrieved June 4, 2009, from Virtual Salt Web site: http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.htm
Vincent Triola. Fri, Jan 22, 2021. Bias, Rhetorical Devices, and Argumentation: Citizen Kane Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/bias-rhetorical-devices-and-argumentation-citizen-kane