Study Guide

Goodfellas Morality and Ethics

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Morality and Ethics

HENRY: Jimmy was the kind of guy who rooted for the bad guys in the movies.

Of all the morally depraved mobsters in the movie, Jimmy might be the morally depravedest. You know, if "depravedest" was a word. Paulie may be the boss, and Tommy may have an itchy trigger finger, but Jimmy is the last guy whose bad side we'd want to be on.

HENRY: And when the cops—they assigned a whole army to stop Jimmy—what'd he do? He made 'em partners.

When a fat bribe is involved, the cops forget their morals and ethics, too. These guys couldn't have run their business without the total cooperation of corrupt cops and other officials.

HENRY: By the time I grew up, there was $30 billion a year in cargo moving through Idlewild Airport, and believe me, we tried to steal every bit of it.

These guys may be crooks, but nobody can say they're not ambitious.

HENRY: Whenever we needed money, we'd rob the airport. To us, it was better than Citibank.

Henry and his crew have an incredible sense of entitlement. The way they see it, that airport is in their neighborhood, and that means it's theirs, baby. But really, it's beyond just entitlement. The idea of whether it's right or wrong to do it doesn't even enter into the picture.

HENRY: For us, to live any other way was nuts. To us, those goody-good people who worked s***ty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, worried about their bills, were dead. They were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice, they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again. It was just all routine. You didn't even think about it.

It's clear from this quote that Henry doesn't view the family's morals and ethics as skewed. The way he sees it, they're just smarter than those average Joes and Janes who ride the subway and worry about their bills. You know, like you and us.

KAREN: What do you do?

HENRY: I'm in construction.

[Karen feels Henry's hands.]

KAREN: They don't feel like you're in construction.

HENRY: Ah, I'm a union delegate.

Here's our first glimpse of Karen's willingness to ignore that little voice in her head saying, "Uh, you know your boyfriend is totally mobbed up, right?"

KAREN'S MOM: What kind of people are these?

KAREN: Ma, what do you want me to do?

KAREN'S MOM: Do? What can you do? He's not Jewish. Did you know how these people live? Did you know what they were like? Your father never stayed out all night without calling.

KAREN: Stay out? Daddy never went out at all, Ma! Keep out of it! You don't know how I feel!

KAREN'S MOM: Feel? How do you feel now? You don't know where he is. You don't know who he's with.

While Karen is up to her earlobes in denial about Henry's shady dealings, Karen's mom sure isn't. Her manner may be brusque, but she's just worried about her baby girl.

KAREN: After a while, it got to be all normal. None of it seemed like crime. It was more like Henry was enterprising, and that he and the guys were making a few bucks hustling, while the other guys were sitting on their asses, waiting for handouts. Our husbands weren't brain surgeons; they were blue-collar guys. The only way they could make extra money, real extra money, was to go out and cut a few corners.

Listen, Karen. It may not have seemed like crime, but you can bet your closet full of polyester jumpsuits that it sure as heck was. As the money pours in, Karen has less and less trouble with Henry's line of work and more and more willingness to rationalize the bad behavior away.

TOMMY'S MOM: Why don't you get yourself a nice girl?

TOMMY: I get a nice one almost every night, Ma.

TOMMY'S MOM: Yeah, but get yourself a girl so you can settle down.

TOMMY: I settle down almost every night, but then in the morning, I'm free. I love you! I wanna be with you!

The mob's morals aren't just loose when it comes to crime. As this exchange shows, they're also pretty wobbly when it comes to relationships and commitment.

KAREN: This is Karen Hill. I want to talk to you. Hello? Hello? Don't hang up on me! I want to talk to you! You keep away from my husband, you hear me? Hello? Open the door! Answer me! I'm going to tell everyone who walks in this building that in 2R, Rossi, you are nothing but a whore!

[She gets on the phone.]

KAREN: Is this the superintendent? Yes, I want you to know, sir, that you have a whore living in 2R! Rossi, Janice Rossi. Do you hear me? He's my husband! Get your own goddamn man!

Karen's personal moral code is pretty interesting. She has no problem overlooking Henry's criminal activities. But his infidelities? She's not so chill about those.

HENRY: When I was broke, I would go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now, it's all over. And that's the hardest part.

This is one of the last lines we hear from Henry as he's taken off into the Witness Protection Program. He has ratted out his former employers and friends after a long life of crime; he has put his family in jeopardy and is making his wife leave everything she's ever known. But, he's got zero remorse for that. All he's thinking about is the lush life he has to leave.

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