Literature Study GuidesThe GodfatherBook 4 Chapter 17 Summary

The Godfather | Study Guide

Mario Puzo

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The Godfather | Book 4, Chapter 17 | Summary



Book 4, Chapter 17 of The Godfather explores the war between the Corleones and other New York Mafia families. The war proves to be expensive for all involved. Because of the murder of Captain McCluskey, the police arrest many people involved in criminal activities in New York, including activities run by the Corleones. Tom Hagen tries to counteract this crackdown by having stories planted in newspapers about McCluskey being a corrupt cop. These stories eventually have the desired effect. Many policemen take money on the side, but they draw the line when the money comes from murder and drugs. When they realize McCluskey's involvement in such dealings, the police begin to ease up on the Mafia. Soon, regular criminal activities resume.

Sonny Corleone brings Don Vito Corleone home, making the Don's bedroom into a hospital room. The Don holds a meeting with Sonny, Hagen, Peter Clemenza, and Salvatore Tessio, but when he learns that Michael Corleone shot Virgil Sollozzo and McCluskey, he gets upset and dismisses everyone. Sonny and the others then meet in the Don's law library. The other families still refuse to negotiate with the Corleones until the family agrees to back the narcotics racket. But the Corleones cannot get involved in narcotics because the Don refused. To make matters worse, the four families outmatch the Corleones. As the gang war rages, the Corleones and their associates are forced to hole up in two apartments in New York. Sonny realizes he needs to replace Hagen, Clemenza, and Tessio with people who are better at engaging in a war, but he can't do this without the Don's approval.


In Book 4, Chapter 17, Puzo stresses the limitation of the patriarchal system in the Corleone's gang war. Because of this system, the Corleones are put in a bind. The four families still want the Corleones to get involved in narcotics. Sonny wants to replace Hagen, Clemenza, and Tessio with men who are better suited to conducting a war. However, Sonny needs to get the Don's approval to make a decision. A patriarchy, therefore, sets up a system where a bunch of people follow the leader. If the leader is incapacitated, then the entire system flounders. No one dares to make an important decision and anger the powerful leader. The Don requires absolute loyalty and does not encourage his followers to think independently. Puzo clearly shows this dynamic in the meeting called by the Don. Sonny, Hagen, Clemenza, and Tessio all need the Don to approve various decisions. But when the Don gets upset about Michael killing Sollozzo and McCluskey, he dismisses everyone. Suddenly, the important meeting stops, and Sonny and the others are stuck. Sonny doesn't want to bother his father any more with decisions because of his illness. The entire situation is made worse because the Don's illness has weakened the family's political contacts. These contacts realize the Don controls all important decisions in his family. So when he gets sick, they lose confidence in the Corleone family and pull away their support. All Sonny can do is hold out until the Don gets well enough to resume command.

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