It has been 50 years since Mario Puzo published “The Godfather” in 1969. Three years later, Francis Ford Coppola adapted the novel into a movie of the same name, and since then, it has become one of the most iconic franchises in recent history. “The Godfather” revolves around the New York-based mafia of the Corleone family, their henchmen and their hazardous escapades. The novel was on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost 70 weeks, and the movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards — three of which it won.
The realm of the Corleones is equal parts poetic and gruesome.The Godfather” conveys the simultaneous benevolence and cruelty that Vito Corleone’s business entails.
The premise of the book is that the Godfather will aid just about anyone who asks him for a favor, under the sole condition that they be unconditionally indebted to him. Favors done by the Godfather, and the Corleone family more largely, range from beatings and financial aid to political influence and murder.
Vito Corleone — the Don— acts as the head of the family’s empire, guiding his three sons, Sonny, Fredo, and Michael. There is also a Corleone daughter, Constanzia “Connie,” though she plays less of a role in the family business. In addition to Vito Corleone’s blood relatives, there is the consigliori (counsellor), Thomas “Tom” Hagen, adopted by the Corleone’s at a young age and raised alongside the Corleone children, a pair of caporegimes (a mafia term for a high-ranking role), Peter “Pete” Clemeza and Salvatore Tessio, Vito’s godson (and Hollywood star Johnny Fontane), the brutish Luca Brasi, and the upcomer Rocco Lampone, who all play significant roles in the family business.
“The Godfather” characterizes the Corleones in a bifold way, shedding light on their sacred interfamilial dynamics, while also detailing the intense violence they incite. The portrayal of Vito Corleone epitomizes this duality. This is seen especially in the crux of his dealings: the favors he gives and then, in return, demands. Early on in the book, an acquaintance goes to Don Corleone after his daughter is severely beaten by her boyfriend. After hearing of the daughter’s injuries, which included two black eyes, a broken nose, a shattered jaw, Don Corleone is at first cold, “The Don had bowed his head to show respect for the man’s grief. But when he spoke, the words were cold with offended dignity. ‘Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me at the beginning of this affair?’” But then, after extended begging for Corleone to avenge his daughter’s pain, Corleone--”a good-hearted man who cannot remain angry with an erring friend,”--agrees. He agrees to have his men beat his friend’s daughter’s boyfriend so bad that he is in the hospital for months. These favors paint a harrowing picture of friendship.
These friendships, that the Corleone family spend their lives organizing, amount to corpses in the streets, prize-winning animals decapitated then left in bed next to their owners, and bodies left in sports cars on the side of the road. And yet, there is still something so striking about Corleone loyalty. They let nothing stand in the way of their family, and isn’t there something admirable about that? The Corleone family redefined loyalty in a way that remains striking decades later.