Study Guide

The Godfather Society and Class

Society and Class

BONASERA: I believe in America.

Bonasera says he believes in America. But he believes in it up to a point—when the court system fails to punish the men who attacked his daughter, then he turns to an older, counter-democratic system—the Mafia—for help.

SONNY: Hey, whaddya gonna do, nice college boy, eh? Didn't want to get mixed up in the Family business, huh? Now you wanna gun down a police captain. Why? Because he slapped ya in the face a little bit? Hah? What do you think this is the Army, where you shoot 'em a mile away? You've gotta get up close like this and—bada-bing!—you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. C'mere... You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.

Sonny is discouraging Michael, who seems set for a more legitimate career, from taking revenge. He'd be blowing his chances to have a political life were he to murder his father's would-be assassins. But Sonny's wrong about Michael taking things personally—in reality, he's just more tenacious about defending the family's interests.

DON CORLEONE: I knew Santino was going to have to go through all this and Fredo... well, Fredo was... But I, I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life, I don't apologize, to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That's my life, I don't apologize for that. But I always thought that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone, something.
MICHAEL: Another pezzonovante.
DON CORLEONE: Well, there wasn't enough time, Michael. There just wasn't enough time.
MICHAEL: We'll get there, pop. We'll get there.

A pezzonovante is an Italian word meaning, roughly, "big shot." Michael darkly suggests that, far from fleeing the path to political legitimacy, he can actually use crime to reach it. Basically, Vito Corleone is saying that he was a mobster in order to fight "The Man," but he hoped that someday Michael would actually become "The Man." Michael realizes he still has a shot at this, thanks to the power of crime.

DON ZALUCHI: I don't want it near schools! I don't want it sold to children! That's an infamia. In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloreds. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.

This grotesquely racist speech shows that, even though the Mafiosi are criminals, they still try to perceive themselves as being better than other classes of people—in this case, African Americans.

MOE GREENE: The Corleone Family wants to buy me out? No, I buy you out, you don't buy me out […] Sonofab****! Do you know who I am? I'm Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!

Moe Greene is a gangster who sees himself as a self-made man, more American than these Corleones who use their family connections to advance themselves and get an edge.