Life Without Meaning in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane
It is the foundation of modern civilization that knowledge is better than ignorance, understanding more valuable than confusion, and wisdom more desirable than foolishness. Consequently, people feel that they should be able to understand the meaning of life and, in doing so, know that their lives are not in vain. They want life to be a coherent whole infused with meaning, so that they can know and understand what life is and where they fit in, thereby attaining wisdom. Life, then, is in essence a struggle to find a meaningful framework for the experiences and feelings we have collected. Since art reflects the human state, and we have grown more conscious of this struggle, our art has come to reflect this problem of making a coherent, meaningful whole out of the assorted fragments of life we have collected.
Though this theme of collecting is visible in all media of modern art, it is especially noticeable in literary and film art, in particular in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. These two pieces analyze collecting on two levels: first because they focus on collecting and second because they are collections. However, the division between these levels is somewhat superficial, as both Eliot and Welles blur the lines between the two parallels, making the audience more acutely aware that this art is a picture of all human life. On both levels the artists draw parallels between the works and the audiences’ lives by examining the content, style, and meaning of the collection; that is, what is collected, how it is collected, and what it says, concluding that life is not a coherent whole, but rather “a heap of broken images” (line 22).1
It is apparent from the outset of Citizen Kane that a parallel is being drawn between the viewers and the main character, Charles Foster Kane, a fact visible in the title. The word “citizen” implies equality, both under law and through the ballot. The effect would have been quite different if the title had been “Tycoon Kane” or “Comrade Kane.” By using a word with which we all associate, Welles sets up a parallel that draws the viewers into the plot. This parallel is magnified by the opening scene where young Kane is sledding happily down the hill, reminding the viewers of their childhood pastimes and happiness, and therefore drawing a strong link between the viewers and Kane. This significant effect continues throughout the movie, thereby creating a real and personal experience for the viewers.
We also find another parallel between the viewers and the reporters making the newsreel of Kane’s life. Both attempt to make sense of his life by collecting pieces of it. We see through Kane that we cannot solve the enigma of life from the first-person perspective, and through the reporters that we cannot solve it from the perspective of the detached observer. The implicit reason is that perhaps no inherent...