Study Guide

Goodfellas Family

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HENRY: See, people like my father could never understand, but I was a part of something. I belonged. I was treated like a grown-up. Every day, I was learning to score. A dollar here. A dollar there. I was living a fantasy.

Before he's enticed by the glamour of the mob, Henry is seduced by the idea of simply fitting in and being supported. His own father beat him.

TOMMY: Anyway, she won't go out with me alone unless her girlfriend comes with her, so I figure you come along and go out with her girlfriend.

HENRY: See? I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.

TOMMY: You knew what? See? What? What the f*** is wrong with that?

HENRY: When is this?

TOMMY: Tomorrow night.

HENRY: I can't tomorrow night; I gotta meet Tuddy.

TOMMY: You could meet Tuddy. You could f***ing come early and then still go.

HENRY: Tommy, Tommy. Why do you always do this to me?

As this exchange shows, Tommy is basically like Henry's brother. His hot-tempered brother that sometimes needs a favor. He expects that his good buddy will help him get the girl.

KAREN: It was like he had two families. The first time I was introduced to all of them at once, it was crazy.

Karen finally gets the full scope of Henry's double family life at their wedding, where she's introduced to a seemingly endless stream of people named Peter, Paul, and Marie.

KAREN: We were all so very close. I mean, there were never any outsiders around. Absolutely never. And being together all the time made everything seem all the more normal.

This idea of outsiders vs. insiders that Karen mentions is instrumental to the mob's success—and its failures. When you're knee-deep in as many illegal activities as Henry's crew is, outsiders aren't to be trusted. Just look at Stacks.

KAREN: We always did everything together, and we always were in the same crowd. Anniversaries, christenings. We only went to each other's houses. The women played cards, and when the kids were born, Mickey and Jimmy were always the first at the hospital. And when we went to the islands or Vegas for vacation, we always went together. No outsiders, ever. It got to be normal. It got to where I was even proud that I had the kind of husband who was willing to go out and risk his neck just to get us the little extras.

Making everything a family—and only the family—affair makes it easy for Karen to find having a mobster for a husband totes normal.

JIMMY: She'll never divorce him. She'll kill him, but she won't divorce him.

Henry's real family may not kill guys and bury them in the woods, but, in her own way, Karen is just as volatile as Henry's mafia cohorts. More importantly, she's even more loyal.

PAULIE: Vinnie, don't put too many onions in the sauce.

VINNIE: I didn't put too much onions, uh, Paul. Three small onions. That's all I did.

JOHNNY: Three onions? How many cans of tomatoes you put in there?

VINNIE: I put two cans, two big cans.

JOHNNY: You don't need three onions.

It's not a family dinner until somebody has a disagreement.

KAREN: Even Paulie—since he got out, I never see him. I never see anybody anymore.

HENRY: It's only you and me. That's what happens when you go away. I told you that. We're on our own. Forget everybody else! Forget Paulie! As long as he's on parole, he doesn't want anybody doing anything.

So, that's how it works. When you get locked up, you're the proverbial red-headed stepchild.

HENRY: You know, we always called each other "goodfellas." Like you said to, uh, somebody, "You're gonna like this guy. He's all right. He's a good fella. He's one of us." You understand? We were goodfellas. Wiseguys. But Jimmy and I could never be made because we had Irish blood. It didn't even matter that my mother was Sicilian. To become a member of a crew, you've got to be 100 percent Italian so they can trace all your relatives back to the old country. See, it's the highest honor they can give you. It means you belong to a family and a crew. It means that nobody can f*** around with you. It also means you could f*** around with anybody, just as long as they aren't also a member. It's like a license to steal. It's a license to do anything. As far as Jimmy was concerned, with Tommy being made, it was like we were all being made. We would now have one of our own as a member.

This is a long quote, but there's a lot of good stuff packed in here. Henry's summation of what a "goodfella" is reveals a lot about the family's insular mentality. There's us, and then there's everybody else. Then, there's his explanation of how and why wiseguys get made: it's how they "officially" belong, and it's considered the highest honor you can receive; that's how mega-important family is. Finally, there's the part about Jimmy's excitement over Tommy getting made—specifically the idea of having "one of our own" as a member. That shows that Henry and Jimmy will never really be part of the family no matter what they do, but they can be proud of Tommy.

HENRY: I was ashamed. I'm ashamed now. But I got nowhere else to go, Paulie. You're all I've got, and I really, really need your help. I really do.

PAULIE: Take this. [Paulie hands him money.] Now, I gotta turn my back.

Since Paulie functions as Henry's surrogate papa, this is pretty brutal—both for Henry and for Paulie.

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