Literature Study GuidesThe GodfatherBook 3 Chapter 14 Summary

The Godfather | Study Guide

Mario Puzo

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The Godfather | Book 3, Chapter 14 | Summary



Book 3, Chapter 14 of The Godfather relates background information about Don Vito Corleone. The Don was born in Corleone, Sicily, which is an island located off the southeastern coast of Italy, and was christened Vito Andolini. His father became involved in a feud and, as a result, was killed by a rival family. The head of this family felt Vito, at the age of 12, was close enough to manhood to seek vengeance. To avoid being killed, Vito was hidden by relatives and then shipped to America. Vito took the last name of the town where he was born. By the age of 18, he worked in a grocery store in New York's Hell's Kitchen and married a 16-year-old girl. At that time, people in Vito's neighborhood were being harassed by a man named Fanucci, who was loosely connected to the Mafia. Fanucci extorted money from shopkeepers and also demanded a percent of the money acquired by fellow criminals. Eventually, Fanucci became a part owner of the grocery where Vito worked. Fanucci then placed his nephew in the store, which put Vito out of work. Vito had difficulty finding other jobs to support his family, which included two children. Vito felt hatred for Fanucci, but never showed his emotions.

To earn more money, Vito, Peter Clemenza, and Salvatore Tessio hijacked trucks loaded with silk dresses and sold the merchandise to an Italian wholesaler. Vito gained $700 from this transaction, which was a lot of money in 1919. However, Fanucci demanded $500 of this money. Vito talked to Clemenza and Tessio about how to handle Fanucci. Clemenza and Tessio advised that Vito should pay the extortionist because he had strong, criminal friends. Vito, though, doubted Fanucci had powerful friends. So Vito met with Fanucci and paid him $200 with the promise of paying him the rest later. After Fanucci left, Vito climbed to the roof of his tenement and walked along other tenement roofs as he followed Fanucci on the street below on his way home. Vito got to Fanucci's apartment first and waited in the dark hallway. When Fanucci entered the hallway, Vito shot him to death.

After this incident, Clemenza and Tessio showed Vito great respect and became his allies. Before long, word spread about Vito being a man of influence. Storekeepers began to ask Vito for favors, such as taking care of bothersome hoodlums. Vito obliged with the understanding that he could ask for a favor in return. Vito set up an olive oil business called Genco Pura with Clemenza and Tessio as salesmen. Using ruthless business practices, Vito established Genco Pura as the best-selling olive oil in America. During Prohibition, Vito, Clemenza, and Tessio became involved in bootlegging liquor, which earned them amazing profits. To better handle his mushrooming criminal organization, Vito set up a structure, which involved making Clemenza and Tessio caporegimes or captains and using a series of buffers that prevented Vito from being implicated directly in any crime. At this time, Vito came to be called Don Corleone. During the Great Depression, the Don's power increased as he gave income to desperate men in return for favors. Poor people in the Don's neighborhood flocked to him for help.

In 1933, the Don became involved in a gang war with a powerful mobster named Salvatore Maranzano, who ran criminal activities in Manhattan. The Don offered this man a partnership. However, Maranzano viewed the Don as an upstart and turned him down. At first glance, Maranzano seemed to outmatch the Don, but the Don gradually gained the upper hand in the war, which ended with the death of Maranzano. The Don incorporated Maranzano's empire into his own operation. At that time, Sonny was 16 and insisted on getting involved in the Don's business. The Don reluctantly agreed. Sonny had a knack for gang warfare, which proved helpful after the Don was wounded in an assassination attempt. The assassin was an Irishman who belonged to a minor gang. The Don was trying to eliminate these lesser gangs in an attempt to consolidate the influence of the five major Mafia families in New York. In 1937, the Don won this dispute and harmony reigned among the Five Families. When World War II began, the Don saw the opportunity to gain more power and wealth. However, to accomplish this, the criminal organizations in the United States had to cooperate instead of fighting among themselves. Through the Don's peacekeeping efforts, he gained a truce among these underworld groups. As a result, the Corleone and other criminal organizations gained great profits during the war, as they handled blackmarket activities. After the war, the Don saw the possibility of using swindling tactics in more legitimate enterprises.


Business versus Personal

In Book 3, Chapter 14, Puzo delves into the theme of business versus personal by showing this division as a split that develops within the Don's personality. As a child, the Don is shown as a quiet boy who keeps his emotions and thoughts to himself. So when Fanucci causes the Don to lose his job, the Don feels a hatred for the man but "never showed this anger in any way." Instead, the Don bides his time. The Don develops early on an enigmatic facade that hides his true emotions. Early in his criminal activities, the Don realizes he could keep calm and use his reason in tense business activities. For example, when the Don hijacks a truck, the narrators says, "Vito Corleone felt no fear, much to his astonishment." Later, the Don can calmly rationalize why he needs to kill Fanucci in a businesslike way. Although the Don hates Fanucci, this hatred does not seem to cloud his thinking process. The narrator says, "Fanucci alive was not worth seven hundred dollars to him [the Don]." The Don, therefore, begins to develop a split personality, in which his true emotions are pushed aside, allowing his rational powers to function effectively. Even so, the Don's hatred fuels his decisions. The Don probably would not have killed Fanucci if he didn't hate him, no matter how much financial sense his murder made.

When the Don kills Fanucci, his split personality has begun to take hold. The narrator says, "He was trembling a little, but was absolutely under control." This split sometimes can be seen in the Don's smile. At times, he smiles as if he knew a private joke that no one else was aware of. The Don smiles in this way when talking about lethal matters in a calm, rational way. However, his eyes do not smile but remain cold. This smiles reveals the "sudden unmasking of his true self," specifically the cold hatred that lies within him. The effect is terrifying. The Don can use his split personality to put on a friendly appearance when his intentions are far from being friendly. The Don shows this when he talks with a landlord who wants to evict a friend of the Don's wife. The Don treats him affectionately, asking him for a favor with great respect. However, in reality, the Don plans to brutally beat up or kill the landlord if he doesn't let his tenant remain. The Don has become adept at putting on a mask, hiding his true intentions, except for an occasional menacing smile.


Puzo uses the symbol of doors to emphasize the Don entering the world of crime and becoming a murderer. In Chapter 1, the author uses doors to represent a partition between two worlds. In the scene where the Don kills Fanucci, Puzo has the Don go through two doors as he tracks his prey. These doors signify that the Don is moving closer and closer to entering a new realm. Finally, when the Don positions himself in a dark hallway waiting for Fanucci to arrive, he looks through a glass door onto the street. As Fanucci approaches this door, the Don extends his hand holding the gun, ready to fire. Fanucci then opens the door and enters the hallway as the Don enters a new world by firing his gun and killing his victim. The doors, therefore, represent the movement or transition of the Don from a decent citizen to a killer.

After killing Fanucci, the Don believes there is no turning back for him. He has found his destiny and must follow it. The Don is known for saying, "Every man has but one destiny." For the Don, each man follows a narrow path in life that he is meant to follow. This rigid way of thinking is most likely affected by the patriarchal system that the Don grew up in. This system is set in stone. The man is the supreme head of the family and the women are subservient people who take care of domestic chores. This patriarchal system has been followed by generations of the Corleone family and many other families. The Don feels changing this system would be sacrilegious and bring shame on him and his family. He must live up to his role in the family, similar to how he must follow his destiny. Such adherence to a rigid system in a way absolves the Don of guilt. After all, he is just following what he is meant to do, be it the domineering head of a family or a murderer who organizes other crimes and murders.

Puzo describes how the Don moves from justice to power and greed. When the Don starts his criminal activities, he does many favors for people who desperately need these favors. For example, he arranges for a woman to stay in her apartment instead of being unjustly evicted. As the Don's criminal organization grows, he does more and more favors. He protects storekeepers from hoodlums and gives poor people money during the Depression. All of these actions can be rationalized as being just, even if the Don expects his favors to be paid back with other favors. However, as his web of criminal activities grows, the Don's obsession with getting more power and wealth also grows. The Don makes plans to form a partnership with a powerful gangster and, when the gangster refuses, ends up fighting a bloody gang war to get what he wants. Later, the thirst for more control and more power drives the Don to form a truce between criminal organizations during World War II. If anyone opposes the Don in his efforts, they are ruthlessly dealt with. So the quest for power comes to dominate the Don's life as does the precariousness of this quest. The Don must always be looking out for the threat of treachery as other criminal groups try to gain power.

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