Where You Can't Get at Him: Orson Welles and the Attempt to Escape from Father

By Beja, Morris | Literature/Film Quarterly, January 1, 1985 | Go to article overview

Where You Can't Get at Him: Orson Welles and the Attempt to Escape from Father


Beja, Morris, Literature/Film Quarterly


In Orson Welles's first film, Citizen Kane, after young Charles Foster Kane defiantly pushes the adult Walter Parks Thatcher down into the snow with his sled, his mother protectively holds on to him while his father reaches for him threateningly. "What that kid needs is a good thrashing," Mr. Kane says: Mrs. Kane's reply is that it is because he thinks that way that Charles is "going to be brought up where you can't get at him." That fundamental psychological situation is so pervasive from then on in Welles's career that he could well follow Franz Kafka's example and contemplate giving all his works the collective title, The Attempt to Escape from Father.^ In Welles- as in Kafka, and of course as in Freud- the attempt to escape from, or evade, or deny, or retreat from the father is connected inevitably with the attempt, conscious or not, to usurp the father's role. I shall provide a quick run-through of Welles's major films in order to demonstrate not only the persistence of these themes but also their variations; but 1 shall postpone until the last two films which I shall consider in at least some detail: Citizen Kane and The Trial.

Certainly no one would bother to try to deny the presence or central importance of Oedipal patterns in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and its depiction of George Minafer's relationships with his family and others. At the ball in which he is otherwise smitten with the daughter of his mother's old beau, when that young girl remarks, "How lovely your mother is," George's reply is a very tender, "I think she is." Not surprisingly, he forms an intense and immediate resentment against the girl's father, an older man who also threatens to take his mother from him. (In Tarkington's novel we are told that, at the ball, "Strangely enough, his thoughts dwelt more upon the father than the daughter, though George could not possibly have given a reason-even to himself- for this disturbing preponderance."2)

George's "real" father is too patently ineffective even for the childish George to worry about. But we have had forecasts of George's attitude toward father-figures, especially when they seem somehow connected to his own mother. For example, while still a young child he has a fight with another boy, and when that boy's father tries to break up the scuffle, George violently attacks the man when he dares to mention George's mother. The attack on Mr. Bronson, who is played by Erskine Sanford, takes the form of his hitting him in the stomach, and it is interesting on a number of levels. For one thing, in a film which is throughout strikingly faithful to the events and dialogue of the novel on which it is based, this physical attack is an addition which does not take place in the book; moreover, it has clear echoes of Citizen Kane- of Charlie pushing Thatcher in the stomach, but also of the young adult Kane's treatment of the elderly Inquirer editor, Mr. Carter, whose "private Sanctum" he invades, and whom he eventually dismisses- and who is also played by Erskine Sanford. At the end, however, Mr. Bronson is kind to the impoverished George, and offers to help him start a law career.

Such benevolence is also a trait in the man who is, of course, George's chief antagonist: Eugene Morgan. When at the ball George asks his Uncle Jack who this man Morgan is, Jack replies, "Just a man with a pretty daughter"-but George objects to the fact that he seems "pretty at home here." When his father dies, George becomes furious when he realizes that Morgan has begun to court his mother again, and he denies him access to the Amberson mansion and to his mother, who finally succumbs to her son's influenceshe knows whom she loves most- and agrees to go away with him on a trip that has all the characteristics of a honeymoon. It is a wedding trip for a marriage of a distinctly Victorian cast: as Jack reports back to Morgan, "they say he won't let her come home. Don't think he uses force. . . . He's very gentle with her. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Where You Can't Get at Him: Orson Welles and the Attempt to Escape from Father
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.