Rhetorical Devices and Argumentation
The campaign speech of Charles Foster Kane in “Citizen Kane”, a 1941 movie claimed to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Hollywood films of all times, has been a subject of several discussions in years. It is interesting because it contains many biases, fallacies and rhetorical devices. For a start, the campaigner displays obvious political bias with his introduction, “There’s only one man who can rid the politics of this State of the evil domination of Boss Jim Gettys.” He ruins the reputation of the opposition in order to boost his candidate’s standing. As rhetorical device, this is an exaggeration, a hyperbole, implying there is no other candidate that deserves to be the Governor but Charles Kane.
It is as if nobody else has the capability to defeat Gettys in the election.
” I am speaking of Charles Foster Kane, the fighting liberal, the friend of the working man, the next Governor of this State…” This is another fallacy committed by the campaigner. He jumps into conclusion, making a hasty generalization by announcing that Kane will win the election. It does not have the necessary premises that support this remark to make it valid. Besides, the election has not started yet so there’s no way to know the result. This can also be parallelism showing that the fighting liberal, the friend of the working man and the next Governor of this State are equal in importance to portray Kane.
“…with one purpose only: to point out and make public the dishonesty, the downright villainy of Boss Jim W. Gettys’ political machine—now in complete control of the government of this State.”This is a fallacy of abusive ad hominem as Kane directly attacks his opponent, hitting him personally without a piece of evidence to back him up. Metonymy is also present here as political machine is used in place of Governor Gettys and all his political allies, resources, strategies and tactics.
When Kane says that he is not making any promises because has no chance of winning is an understatement. Behind this remark is the reality that Kane and his allies feel that, even weeks ago, they have the sympathy of the electorate and they are confident to win. This is also a case of fallacy of appealing to emotion by downplaying his real situation, a common tactic of playing the underdog to gain the people’s pity.
Kane makes a declaration that he will win the election because “Every straw vote, every independent poll shows that I’ll be elected.” Of course this is Argumentum ad Novitatem
or bandwagon fallacy. It is implying that Kane is allegedly leading the race thus it is only appropriate that people vote for him. The speaker makes a bold announcement without showing the people any written proofs or statistics.
Euphemism is utilized as working man, slum child, underprivileged, underpaid and underfed are used in place of oppressed and poor to lessen the offensive effect. A fallacy appealing to the masses or to the population also occurs here because Kane strongly claims that he is a common man, a champion of the people and supports the masses all the way. Finally, the promise of Kane to indict, prosecute and convict Gettys is an exaggeration because it is a common knowledge that it is not as simple as one’s whim. Everybody, even the vilest of man, deserves a fair trial. Mere accusations with no proofs are not enough. It takes long time, money, lot of effort and hard evidence to convict Gettys.
For an argument to be effective, it must have valid premises or supporting details. Kane’s arguments lack these elements. He just makes outright and daring announcements without validating them. Kane disguises the lack of soundness and legitimacy of his arguments with force and conviction in delivering his speech. He attacks the people’s emotion and sentiment rather than their intellect.
American Rhetoric: Movie Speeches. “Citizen Kane” (1941). Retrieved March 4, 2009 from