The Godfather by: Mario Puzo Book Review

As the Corleones become engaged in a mob war against four of the other five major crime families of New York, Michael against his intent finds himself succeeding Vito as head of the Corleone Family. The story begins at Connie Corleone’s wedding to Carlo Rizzi at which her father (Vito), Tom Hagen (the soon-to-be Consigliere), and Santino Corleone (Vito’s oldest son and the Underboss) are attending to the family business upstairs.

Michael arrives with his girl friend Kay Adams (a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), and during the festivities Michael explains to Kay about his family and their involvement in organized crime and how he’s not like them and wants to live a legitimate life. Unlike Tom, who is an adopted son, and Fredo and Santino who are both biological sons of Vito, Michael is treated as a civilian by the mob world as a result of his refusal to be involved in the family business.

Soon afterwards, Vito refuses to involve the Corleone Family in the finance and protection of a drug smuggling operation headed by Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo who is backed by the Barzini and Tattaglia Families. This launches the family into a mob war as Vito’s best soldier, Luca Brasi, is murdered and an attempt to assassinate Vito are carried out by Sollozzo’s men. Vito survives the attempt but is badly hurt and as a result, Sonny temporarily takes control of the family.

While visiting Vito in the hospital, Michael discovers that the guards who were hired to protect his father were not there and he was thus vulnerable to another assassination attempt. Following this, we learn that all Michael wants is to be out, to live his own life, but he also realizes his obligation to the family while Vito is incapacitated. For the first time, out of concern for his father and family, he takes what amounts to involvement in the family business as he stands outside the hospital with one of his father’s friends pretending to be a guard holding a gun in order to scare-off the would be assassins until Sonny and Tom send help.

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He then grills a crooked cop named McCluskey about the reasons why his father is left unguarded, and McCluskey punches him smashing one side of his face. Luckily for both Michael and Vito, it is then that Tom arrives with men to guard Vito and is able to take care of a now unconscious Michael as well as use his legal expertise to thwart McCluskey’s efforts against the family for the night. It is revealed that McCluskey works for Sollozzo using his position as a Police Captain to aid Sollozzo’s drug rackets as well as serving as Sollozzo’s personal bodyguard.

After a discussion with the higher ranking members of the family, it’s decided that for the safety of Vito and for the good of the family (and the family business), Michael would have to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey. He arranges to meet McCluskey and Sollozzo at a small Italian Restaurant to negotiate a peace. At the meeting, the Corleone family plants a gun in the bathroom which Michael uses to kill both men. He then flees to Sicily, wear Vito was born, where he hides with Vito’s associate Don Tommasino.

A mob war begins in New York between the Corleones and the other four of the five families, primarily the Barzini and Tattaglia families. While Michael is still in Sicily, Santino is killed. Vito, though for the most part recovered, rises from his sick bed to reassume head of the family. He calls together the heads of the major mob families. There he compromises and makes the peace, swearing of vengeance for Sonny’s murder on the condition that Michael is allowed to return to New York unharmed. As Sonny is dead, Vito is old, Freddie is incompetent, and Tom Hagen is adopted and not Sicilian, Michael assumes the head of the Corleone Family.

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Though succession isn’t necessarily by family lines, Michael had already gotten involved in the business when he killed Sollozzo. Following his excursion to Italy, he gained a greater understanding of his father and a different opinion of the criminal activities of the family business. He feels an obligation to his father and to the family and easily the most adept to take over the family. He admires his father and takes over the business for what it offers, respect and power. But he disdains it for what it doesn’t offer legitimacy.

Michael’s one great goal is to legitimize the Corleone Family Business. When he proposes to Kay, he says that he intends to legitimize the family business within 5 years. Vito Corleone semi-retires and acts as his son’s Consigliere. During that time they plan to abandon the family’s holdings in New York (handing them over to their Caporegimes, Tessio and Clemenza) and move the family operations to Nevada and start getting into the gambling and hotel business. When Vito dies, it is perceived that the Corleone Family’s power died with it as Michael is perceived weak.

However in a brilliant plan he kills Tattaglia and Barzini as well as traitors within the Corleone family such as the Caporegime Tessio and his own brother-in-law, Carol Rizzi. Following this move, he solidifies his power as head of the Corleone Family, and the power of the Corleone Family as the most powerful family in New York and possibly the nation. But with this move, as you see him being greeted by his followers as Don Michael Corleone, you realize that he has lost his conflict. Throughout the novel, Vito seems at peace with his role as Don, it seems the opposite for Michael.

Orininally he is burdened by his family’s involvement in crime and in the very end he finds himself burdened by his role as Don. He has betrayed one of his basic natures, for the other. Rather than forging a destiny for himself away from the family business, he forges a destiny for himself that he never wanted, following his father as head of the Corleone Crime Family. 4. The protagonist of The Godfather is Michael Corleone. He is described as having straight jet black hair, an olive-brown skin tone, and a “delicate” handsomeness.

Puzo describes Michael as having “all the quiet force and intelligence of his great father, the born instinct to act in such a way that men had no recourse to respect him. ” Though the most obvious character trait about Michael is his ruthlessness, as exemplified of his ability to kill anyone in cold blood if it’s justifiable and his insatiable thirst for vengeance, Michael has various other traits that when combined with his ruthlessness makes him a formidable force. Michael is incredibly intelligent. Nothing exemplifies this more than the beauty of the plan that he executes at the end of the book.

In order to gain the respect he needed to be Don and to consolidate the power of the Corleone Crime Family following his father’s death, Michael and Vito devise an ingenious plan to put into action. In order to consolidate his power and make his bones as a Don, Michael ordered a series of calculated killings: Moe Greene the casino owner who stood in the family’s way of establishing its business holdings in Nevada, Barzini and Tattaglia the heads of the two families who were their greatest rivals in New York, Salvatore Tessio, Carlo Rizzi, and Fabrizzio who had all committed treachery against the Corleone Family.

In the chaos that followed Michael was able unleash the regimes of his capos, Rocco Lampone and Pete Clemenza upon the infiltrators of the Corleone domains. In one fell swoop, he re-established the Corleone family as the most powerful crime family in New York and possibly the nation, solidified his position as the unquestioned leader of the Corleone family, and paved the way to move the Corleone family’s business interests out west. One of the abilities that best serve Michael as Don is his decisiveness.

Michael has a unique ability to think clearly under fire, make sound decisions and stick by them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the crisis following the assassination attempt on Vito by Sollozzo. When visiting at the hospital and realizing that the lack of guards left Vito vulnerable to another attack, Michael immediately calls Sonny who gets Tom to bring men over. In the mean time, he and his father’s well wisher, Enzo the baker, fake being armed protectors of the hospital in order to ward of the assassins temporarily until help came.

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Also, it is Michael who realizes that Sollozzo wouldn’t rest until Vito was killed. As a result, he made the decision to be the one sent to negotiate for they wouldn’t suspect them, and he made the decision to be the one to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey. This was a well thought out and decisive action. He refused to be swayed and in the end he managed to convince Tom, Sonny, and the capos to go along with the plan. In the long run, Michael being out of country would be a liability to the Corleone family, in the short run it turned out to be not only a esirable but necessary tactical move. One of Michael Corleone’s most powerful personality traits is his presence. Michael, like his father, possessed the unique presence that commanded respect from both his enemies and friends. Just like his father managed to control a fearsome monster like Luca Brasi, a man who did not fear even death, Michael was able to control his own Luca Brasi in Al Neri. The key here was his presence. His ability to make man who did not even fear death, respect and fear him.

It was not by his physical stature, power, or influence that he was able to do this, it was by his presence. His presence was essentially his ability to command a room and demand respect. This is exemplified at the very end of the book when Michael is given the respect he has earned as Don from his capos as Kay is “reminded of statues in Rome, statues of those Roman emperors of antiquity, who, by divine right, held the power of life and death over their fellow men. ” 5. The Setting: a) The Years of 1945-1955.

There are also flashbacks of Vito’s early life. b) Duration: 10 Years c) Most of the story is set in New York. However there are parts of the story set in Sicily and Nevada. d) The action occurs for the most part in New York. e) Most of the characters of the story are Sicilian-American Immigrants and have connections with the mafia, in particular the Corleone crime family. 6. The theme of the book is Don Vito’s quote, “A man only has one destiny. ” Both Vito and Michael faced the question of respect versus legitimacy.

Vito, above all things prized respect while Michael on the other hand was a proponent of legitimacy. Both Vito and Michael envisioned him with a future in the legitimate world, unburdened by the family business. However, following the assassination attempt on Vito and Michael’s subsequent involvement in the family business in the interests of his father’s welfare, he altered the course of his destiny and permanently tied it to the family business. As a result of his actions he not only becomes part of the family, but the death of Sonny and the incompetence of Fredo leads to him becoming he heir to Don Vito’s vast criminal empire. Although both he and his father had imagined him living a life in the legitimate world, fulfilling his destiny there, many had already assumed that he would be the one to succeed his father as Don even before his involvement in the family business. Michael’s one destiny was tied to his family, to its business, and to his role as Vito’s heir. Vito’s primary concern as a Don was with respect, he requires respect from everyone around him out of fear or in return for favors.

Respect forms the backbone of the social structure of a Mafia family hierarchy for it establishes power relationships and functions as part of an exchange system. Michael’s concern however is with the legitimacy of the family. He wants to be free of criminality and immorality and in the beginning he tries to do this by distancing himself by the family. However when he becomes part of the family business, he is deluded into thinking that he can legitimize the family, to turn it into an operation that does not require murder, bribery, extortion, gambling, prostitution, and drugs to make money.

The author wants the reader to understand that no matter how much power a man possesses, he cannot change his destiny for he only has one. When Michael got involved with the family business, at that moment he was destined to be associated with it and this eventually led to his ascension to head of the family. By doing this chose a destiny based on the respect that his father valued rather than the legitimacy that he valued. This is because a Mafia hierarchy is built on respect and legitimacy does not play an essential role.

Despite all his power as head of the family, it becomes clear by the end that he cannot change his destiny. The task of turning the Corleone crime family into a legitimate entity is genuinely impossible and in reality the opposite happens. As much as he tries to convince himself that he can turn the family legitimate, he becomes as illegitimate as the family. He cast his one destiny with the Corleone crime family, and despite all the power he wielded, he could not alter it. 7. Then with a profound and deeply willed desire to believe, to be heard, as she had done every day since the murder of Carlo Rizzi, she said the necessary prayers for the soul of Michael Corleone. ” This sentence is more than appropriate as the last sentence of the book, it is brilliant. With this sentence Puzo brings the book to a fitting conclusion. It marks Michael’s transformation from the beginning to the end and the fulfillment of his destiny. The book starts with him telling Kay how he wasn’t like his family and how he wasn’t like his father.

As the book progresses and out of necessity and then out of free will he gets involved with his family’s business, he becomes more and more like his father. At the very end Michael fulfills his one destiny by succeeding his father as head of the Corleone family. Not only that, but he has gone through a complete reversal from the beginning of the book when he refuses to be a man like his father as by book’s close, he is a man exactly like his father. Puzo subtly alludes to all of this with the simple act of Kay converted to Catholicism and praying for Michael’s eternal soul.

This is almost an exact correlation to earlier in the book when Kay asks Michael’s mother, Mama Corleone, why she goes to church every morning and Mama Corleone essentially says that she goes to pray for Vito’s soul to keep it from going to hell. This shows that Kay has come to terms with what Michael does for a living, has settled into her role as an Italian wife, and out of love fears for his immortal soul. Michael has become Vito. 8. The novel is based upon the workings of the mind rather than the heart. Throughout the book, the workings of the mind are stressed above the workings of the heart.

Vito always preaches that reason is the best approach to any situation. This is a philosophy that Vito uses and that Michael employs as well. To a certain extent, his proposal to Kay sounded more like a business proposal than one that was heartfelt and she needed to prompt him to show some emotion. But most importantly, one of the major themes in the book is that “It’s business, not personal. ” The way that most of the male major characters look at situations is a clear divide between the personal life and what they do as a living. They dictate their actions and words based upon what would be best for “business” purposes.

This essentially beyond being a good form of policy for an effective crime organization was also a rationale in which they would subdue their feelings of guilt with acceptable justification. 9. The character that I most associate myself with is Vito. In the book there are very few characters that I can really relate to based upon life experiences. However in views on life, I feel I most resemble Vito. I agree with a lot of what he says. I agree with his idea that there should be a distinction between business and personal matters. I also agree that above all, reason is the key to dealing with any situation.

I also identify with his manner of going about business. Vito’s plans always rather than relying on elements such as ruthlessness, rely on cunning. His intent is always to outsmart his opponents and it seems that he always manages to stay one step ahead of the competition. 10. If Michael Corleone were a girl, the novel would be completely different. In the world of the Mafia, men and women live in vastly different realms as men handle the responsibilities of business and winning the bread for the family while women tend to the home and children.

Men don’t discuss business with women and women don’t question the judgment of the men. Men can’t afford to be careless; however women are allowed to be both careless and carefree. So if Michael was a woman, he would probably be regulated to a Connie styled role. His importance business wise within the family would be dependent upon his husband but for the most part he would not play a major part in much of anything, let alone head of one of the most powerful crime families in the nation.