In this criticism DS explores the theme of a recurring God symbol in Puzo's The Godfather and shows how this symbol relates to his message of the Corleone family's inescapable destiny.



The “God”-Father, Puzo’s Portrayal of the Continual Legacy of the God Figure

Puzo’s best known work, The Godfather, chronicles the strife of the Corleone family and the passing of the torch of leadership from one generation to another. The title character, Don Vito Corleone, is portrayed as an almost perfect character amidst the sullied environment of organized crime he presides over. Vito is shown as a perfectly reasonable man without fault; always acting in the correct manner no matter what situation he is in. It is this God-like power he has over other people and his perfect influence that makes him a God figure in the novel. In addition, as Vito passes the torch of leadership of the family business onto his son Michael, what is observed by the reader is an abrupt transformation of Michael. Once a veteran who served his country, Michael is inevitably forced to help the “family business” and becomes the next Don. Michael transforms from his own naïve young self into an exact clone of Vito Corleone. It is this profound transformation from mortal to immortal that becomes the focal point of Michael Corleone’s internal struggle. Inexorably, this recurring theme indicates you cannot escape your destiny.
Vito Corleone is a man with absolute power. The entire Corleone family controls all organized crime in the largest city in the United States. In essence, he is the absolute domineering monarch over his territory. However, what distinguishes himself from any other leader is his persona. It is this powerful combination of influence, silent reason, and precision tact that makes him immortal; he has no flaws. The symbolic shooting of Don Corleone at the beginning of the novel lends further credence to this at a physical level, as even six shots at point-blank range are not effective enough to kill him.
Even as a young adult Vito is found without fault. Vito was, “A man of reasonableness. He never uttered a threat. He always used logic that proved to be irresistible” (Puzo 223). Don Corleone, throughout the novel, deals with an almost inexplicable knack for composure. While his business is lucrative, Don Corleone still operates by a code of unwritten morals in his business transactions. It is this intricacy that sets apart Don Corleone from the other members of the family business.
Don Corleone is seen to have an almost omnipresent level of high regard beset by all of his fellow workers and friends. Many of the people who are protected by his family make sure to do the Godfather a small favor in return for his benevolence by donating to him whatever they specialize in. In a symbolic communion, bread and other food is offered to the Godfather as a token of thanks and praise. In fact, many of his followers that have been with him for a long time see him as wielding supernatural powers over life and death itself. His former consigliere, Genco Abbandando, while laying on his deathbed, pleads with Don Corleone to stay with him. “Godfather,” he said, “stay here with me and help me meet death. Perhaps if He sees you near me He will be frightened and leave me in peace. Or perhaps you can say a word, pull a few strings, eh?” (Puzo 42) This profound and interesting statement shows the absolute power and influence the Don has over his people. Also, while this man Genco is portrayed as a guilty man who has perpetrated wrongdoings in the past, Don Corleone is portrayed as the opposite of this man even though Genco was his right-hand consigliere. What we see is someone who is infallible yet justifiably resolute with a proper example to follow. What is seen is the elevation of a man from a lucrative crime lord to a God-like, highly ethical, and moral human being.
If Don Corleone’s ethical persona was not enough to elevate him to a God-like level, it is his great compassion and open ability to forgive that sets him on a level above all reproach found in mortal man. Just like the Christian God, Don Corleone is always to openly and willingly forgive whoever implores him so. The famous opening scene of both the movie and the novel display such an action. Amerigo Bonasera has the audacity to ask Don Corleone to do him a favor after distancing himself from the Don for many years. However, instead of blunt refusal, Don Corleone open forgives the man in return for a small favor by him someday in the future. The largest sub-plot of the book deals with Johnny Fontane turning his life around from the sex and alcohol of a washed-up singer to a successful movie producer. After divorcing his wife with children to marry an attractive actress and drinking himself into debt, Johnny realizes he needs the help of his Godfather. And just like a paternal figure, the Godfather forgives Johnny and constantly monitors Johnny’s actions from afar. As Johnny says, “You just can’t get sore at him. It’s like getting sore at God.” (Puzo 175)

Even more profound than Don Corleone’s extra-human capabilities is the transition of Michael from a potential math Professor into a crime lord just like his father; an exact reincarnation of Don Corleone. When Michael first helps the family business when his father is shot he is given menial and rather “safe” tasks. Having been the only member to serve in the military and attend college, Michael is aloof from all family matters. However, when Michael is selected to gun down the man responsible for the shooting of the Don, Michael undergoes a profound change in his persona. “Michael was not too tall or heavily built but his presence seemed to radiate danger. In that moment he was a reincarnation of Don Corleone himself.” (Puzo 137) Michael becomes cold, calculated, and begins to implement the code of ethics his father used before him. In the end, being an exact replica of the Don, he is the only viable candidate to replace the retiring Vito Corleone, although he really isn’t retiring since he is practically still in power, just through another body. As Vito said to Michael, “I never wanted this for you,” we see an interesting perspective on the situation. However, regardless of Don Vito’s personal desires, Michael cannot escape his destiny. This destiny was to be a Godfather. By the end of the novel, Michael is Vito Corleone. His mannerisms, his personality, his physical looks all changed as he became the next in line ruler of his family. Michael’s actions perfectly emulate the Godfather’s in every way. “Michae said quietly, ‘I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.’ The words were said in an ordinary voice yet the effect was chilling.” (Puzo 412) His silence, his power with words, all skills Don Vito once honed.
What is most interesting in this novel is the ending chapter which perfectly binds this plot theme not only to Michael Corleone, but also to his wife Kay Adams. Kay, originally an aloof American girl dating Michael sees the corruption of the family business from an outsider’s perspective. She sees the true impact the Corleones have on everyday people and the impact on her when her love is forced into exile for three years. Kay begins to develop a unique relationship with Michael’s mother. During this relationship Kay begins to question why Mrs. Corleone doesn’t speak out about these evil actions in the family business. However, Kay soon sees by the end of the novel that this destiny is inescapable and instead of fighting it, she becomes a reincarnation of Mrs. Corleone, attending church regularly and saying continual prayers for the soul of Michael Corleone so he won’t burn in hell.
It is this interesting theme of rebirth and the Godfather’s God-like qualities that make this novel such a captivating read. In the end Michael’s destiny is inescapable in essence because it is the shared destiny of the mortal God, Vito Corleone.

DS 2009





In this criticism, DS explores Puzo's use of the character Vincenzo as a Christ figure to exemplify his message of the costs of living in America

Vinnie’s Sacrifice: The Influence of the Christ Figure on the Angeluzzi-Corbo Family’s Fate
Puzo’s lesser-known yet far more poetic novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, chronicles the plight of an Italian immigrant family during the Great Depression. Lucia Santa Angeluzzi-Corbo, mother of six children, must deal with the hardships of raising these six children without a father in the slums of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. In the novel America is identified as the “land of opportunity”. However, this opportunity comes with great risks and hardships one must endure. Lucia Santa at a young age braved the treacherous ocean and arrived in America. She got married, had three children. Then the husband died; a major hardship especially for the Italians and their old-world views on social issues. Then she had a second husband, reared three more children, and then he too died in a mental institution. However, the greatest hardships of all come from her children. As they all mature different problems emerge: Lorenzo gets involved with the mafia, Octavia becomes deathly ill, Gino refuses to obey his mother, and worst of all, her son Vincenzo dies by mysterious circumstances. All of these hardships, however large they are, are integrated into the fabric of fate for the family and this becomes a fact of life to Lucia Santa. After all, regardless of these hardships, they are a fraction of the toil and strife she would have to endure if she remained in Italy. Vincenzo’s death is indisputably the greatest tragedy Lucia Santa must endure. However, it is this event that allows the family to finally thrive in America. While he is not the main character, Puzo’s build-up of Vinnie’s character and the events leading to his death leave a pang of sympathy in the reader as well and establishes this death as a suitable sacrifice for a better future in America.

From the novel’s beginning Vinnie was doomed from the start. In a possible foreshadowing of events to come, Vinnie’s father died due to a work-related accident while he was still in his mother’s womb. Vinnie is seen as a quiet, obedient young boy. At a young age he is forced to make his first sacrifice- work at the paneteria so the family can get by. Meanwhile Gino, a few years younger than Vinnie, is the exact opposite. While Vinnie is forced to take a job at age 10, Gino coasts through life, never holding a job. However, Vinnie cares deeply for his half-brother, even if Gino goes about living more relaxed. Vinnie’s job causes some conflict among the family members as Octavia, his older sister, argues with her mother continually over the injustice done to Vinnie. She continually vouches for Vinnie saying, “You make the poor kid, Vinnie, work for that lousy baker. He won’t have any fun this summer. And meanwhile, your beautiful husband, all he can do is be a janitor for free work.” This decay of respect in the household creates a rising tension among all of the family members which occasionally erupts and makes the home anything but a sanctuary. As the novel continues the Great Depression comes on full-blown at the Angeluzzi-Corbo family. Octavia, who had money saved since she was a child, plans to use this money to pay for Vinnie’s college education. However, a series of misfortunes arise which temporarily dismantle the dream Octavia so carefully orchestrated. Octavia wonders, “What about Vinnie? With shock Octavia realized that she had already written his future off. He would have to go to work early to help his brothers and sisters.”

About halfway through the novel Puzo jumps ahead about a decade later. This choice use of time not only displays the monotony of life in poverty, but also the reader gets to see an abrupt change in each character in terms of maturity. As the family’s dream of moving out to Long Island is held back by a decade of squalor, Lucia Santa begins to lament this life she does not want to have.

“America, America, what different bones and flesh and blood grow in your name? My children do not understand me when I speak, and I do not understand them when they weep. Why should Vincenzo weep, that foolish boy, tears running down cheeks blue with the beard of manhood. She had sat on his bed and stroked his face as if he were still a child, terribly frightened. He had work, he earned his bread, he had a family and a home and a bed to rest his head, yet he wept and said, ‘I have no friends’ But what did that mean?” (Puzo 225) Concerning Vinnie, this aging has only brought woe to the tragic figure. As explored later, Vinnie is forced to work from four to twelve at night on every night except Monday. He is trapped in a life of toil that is necessary for his family to survive. However, not once does Vinnie ever complain, not once does he renounce his job; he has come to terms witht eh fact that it is necessary for his survival. This work is socially alienating Vinnie. As mentioned above, he feels isolated, alone, and ignored, all terrible feelings for a person to harbor. Puzo reveals exclusively in a chapter that all Vinnie does on the Monday night has off is hire a prostitute while his mother and sister think he is going out on a date. He was going to, “Pay his five dollars and get laid, simply and efficiently. He was ashamed of this because it was another mark of failure.” Even Puzo’s description of Vinnie’s workplace as “a nightmare in which a man sees a prison he know he will someday come to live in” sets the tone for the poor quality of Vinnie’s life. But why explain these depressing facets of Vinnie’s life? In effect, Puzo foreshadows Vinnie’s death and creates overwhelming sympathy for the lonely, caring, and ultimately, tragic character. The details of Vinnie’s death are, however, mysterious. He was run over by a train, however, is unknown whether this was done intentionally or unintentionally. There is a rational basis for both sides: Vinnie had every reason to take his own life yet he cared too much for his family to act in such a selfish way.

Regardless of his decision in the matter, his death, while the paragon of anguish for the Angeluzzi-Corbo family also brings the unexpected fortune they have desperately strived for. Lucia Santa becomes more appreciative of her children and for the first time it seems in the novel, notices her two youngest children. Lorenzo and Octavia begin to help out their mother more by sending her more money. However, the greatest change is found in Gino. Throughout the novel Gino is out of control. He refuses to take a job, is selfish, and only lives each day for himself. After his favorite brother dies, however, Gino reaches a sense of maturity nobody would ever expect. Gino takes Vinnie’s old position and works his hardest; even working overtime. Eventually, Gino enlists in the army for World War II; a true display of the maturity and level sacrifice Gino has attained. By the end of the novel, the family finds good fortune and is able to move to long Island; with every member of the family finally working together, they finally have enough money. It was only with this sacrifice by Vinnie that the family could prosper. As Puzo poetically states in the last paragraph: “America, America, blasphemous dream. Giving so much, why could it not give everything? In her world, as a child, the dream was to stay alive. But in America wilder dreams were possible, and she had never known of their existence. Bread and shelter were not enough. Octavia had wanted to be a teacher. What had Vinnie wanted? Something she would never know.” (Puzo 281) America is the land of opportunity; however, this comes at a price. Puzo’s build-up of Vinnie’s character and his ultimate sacrifice for his family portray the costs of getting by in the new world.
DS 2009