The Godfather Summary

Mario Puzo

The Godfather

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The Godfather Summary

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The Godfather by Italian-American author Mario Puzo follows one man’s descent into becoming the head of a Sicilian mob. The novel was adapted for the screen in 1969, winning several Academy Awards, including one for Puzo (Best Adapted Screenplay). The inspiration for the mob came from Puzo’s days as a journalist covering sensational events in New York City.

Its themes include fate, family, and the effects of possessing political power.

The novel opens with three typical examples of people seeking the help of Don Vito Corleone, or “Godfather.” One man’s daughter was beaten by a couple of young brutes and the judge only gave them probation; another man needs the boyfriend of his daughter to become an American citizen; another young movie star is having marital problems.

Vito Corleone has established a reputation for being willing to help anyone. The one thing he requires is absolute friendship and unwavering loyalty. Vito, an orphaned Sicilian immigrant, found it was the world of organized crime that was able to reward his hard work with the American Dream.

Vito is first seen in action during the wedding reception for his daughter, Connie. In a dimly lit back room, Corleone continues his mob business. His eldest son, Sonny, whom Don is priming to take over affairs one day, watches. Tom Hagen is also present. An adopted son, Hagen works as the family lawyer.

The reader watches as the first three men in the opening pages submit themselves to Corleone for his intervention. This includes Johnny Fontane, a wonderful big band singer who is having difficulty landing roles because of his darker Italian appearance. Vito asks Hagen to visit Los Angeles to lobby on Johnny’s behalf to a big studio owner. But when the owner, Jack Woltz, refuses to move and is discourteous toward the family, Hagen arranges for Woltz to wake up in a blood-stained bed with the head of his prize-winning, white thoroughbred lying at his feet.

Meanwhile, Sollozzo, a more modern, hardline criminal, wants to recruit the Corleones to sell narcotics. Sollozzo is supported by two other major families, the Barzinis and Tattaglias, but Sollozzo knows he needs Vito’s muscle and money to keep the operation clear from the police.

Vito, guided by his paternal instincts, cannot bring himself to accept Sollozo’s offer of drug trafficking. Suspicious of Sollozzo, Vito sends his trusted bodyguard, Luca Brasi, to learn more about Sollozzo’s operations. Sollozzo has Luca killed. Vito is shot, almost fatally, while shopping in a fruit market. With Vito disabled, Sonny rises up the ladder as the temporary Godfather.

Among the people who have come for Connie’s wedding is the youngest member of the family, Michael Corleone. Michael is unique within the family: he has promised to never become involved with the mob; he is a WWII veteran; he is dating a non-Italian named Kay Adams.

But Michael does end up involved with the mob out of necessity. While visiting a weakened Vito in the hospital, Michael sees that his police guards have left. He asks Captain McCluskey, an officer susceptible to bribing, where the guards are, and McCluskey punches him unconscious.

When Michael wakes up, he is more accepting of his family’s advice and accepts a gun.

He proposes a peace meeting with Sollozzo and McCluskey at a quiet Italian restaurant. Michael shoots both men dead, then flees to Sicily.

The Mob violence ends up in the papers, and Vito is disheartened to see that his youngest has been implicated. Sonny and Tom argue whether they should preemptively attack the Tattaglias, Sollozzo’s main protectors.

Soon after, Sonny sees Connie with a black eye and quickly deduces that her new husband, Carlo, has been hitting her. Sonny, who by nature is rash, beats Carlo with a trash can. When Connie calls Sonny later crying, Sonny speeds over to her house, ready to beat—even kill—Carlo. But while stopped at a tollbooth, Sonny is ambushed by rival family members and shot hundreds of times.

In Sicily, Michael falls in love with and soon marries Apollonia, a young Sicilian woman. Their marriage is cut tragically short when she is killed in a car bomb that was meant for Michael.

Vito meets with the five great Mafia families to make a deal: he will not seek vengeance for Sonny’s death if Michael can return to the city and remain alive.

A year passes and Michael marries his old girlfriend, Kay Adams. Since Sonny’s death, Michael has become the oldest, by blood son, and works for his father full-time. He promises Kay that the business will become legal and mainstream soon enough. Michael intends to move the family to Las Vegas so they can enter the casino business.

Vito serves as Michael’s advisor in a small capacity but eventually dies of old age while playing with his grandson, Anthony.

During the baptism for his nephew (Connie and Carlo’s son), Michael orders the other crime bosses to be murdered. Upon leaving the christening, Michael hears that the murders were accomplished, and he has become the absolute Mob lord of New York City.

Before Michael leaves New York City, he extracts revenge on two people he believes wronged his family. First, he sends a hit man to finish off Tessio, an old advisor to his father who has been feeding secrets to the Barzini family. Next, the more difficult decision involves killing his brother-in-law, Carlo, whose child he agreed to be the godfather to. Unlike Tessio, Michael kills Carlo himself. Since becoming the mafia boss, Michael has learned that Carlo fed information to rival families about Sonny’s whereabouts. If it were not for Carlo, Sonny would still be alive.

The novel closes with Connie shouting at Michael for killing her husband.

Kay confronts him about his role in the murder, and all he says to her is a monotone, “No.” He walks into his office and locks the door, further isolating himself with his new responsibilities and power.