Literature Study GuidesThe GodfatherBook 4 Chapter 19 Summary

The Godfather | Study Guide

Mario Puzo

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The Godfather | Book 4, Chapter 19 | Summary



In Book 4, Chapter 19 of The Godfather readers learn how Sonny Corleone comes to a bloody end. He leads his family in an all-out war against the other four families in New York. Sonny's tactics are brutal. He orders the killing of Tattaglia's pimps and the slaughter of longshore workers connected with the four families. These tactics are senseless because they hurt business for all involved. Although Tom Hagen does not approve of Sonny's approach, he doesn't object because in a way it is working. The four families seem to have been beaten into submission. Sonny knows he's a marked man and takes elaborate precautions to protect himself. He hopes his way of handling the war will earn the respect of his father. Perhaps Don Vito Corleone will name Sonny as his successor. Meanwhile, the heads of the four families have developed a hatred for Sonny and know they must kill him to win the war.

One evening, Connie receives a phone call from Sonny's girlfriend, who tells her that she cannot see Sonny tonight. Furious at the woman's audacity, Connie confronts her husband Carlo Rizzi about the call. Connie and Carlo end up having a fight, during which Carlo hits his pregnant wife with a belt. Frightened, Connie calls the Don's house in Long Beach and asks Sonny to send a car to pick her up. Realizing that Carlo has beaten up Connie again, Sonny gets enraged and drives toward Connie's apartment in New York. Hagen has two men follow in a car. Sonny drives fast down the Jones Beach Causeway, leaving his bodyguards' car far behind. At a tollbooth, Sonny is machine-gunned to death. When the bodyguards arrive, they realize Sonny is dead and call Hagen.

Shaken, Hagen calls Connie's apartment and tells Carlo that Sonny is dead and to treat Connie nicely. Carlo understands he better do this or else he'll be killed. Hagen arranges for Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio to come and then prepares to break the bad news to the Don. The Don comes downstairs and senses something is wrong. Hagen says, "They shot Sonny on the causeway. He's dead." The Don wants to hear the details, but tells Hagen to wait for Clemenza and Tessio. Soon the caporegimes arrive and the Don tells them and Hagen that he wants no further acts of war as they prepare his son's funeral. The Don then goes upstairs to tell his wife about Sonny's death.


In Book 4, Chapter 19, Puzo develops the themes of business versus personal and the theme of power and greed by contrasting the approaches of Sonny, Hagen, and the Don. As has been shown, Sonny has difficulty controlling his temper. As a result, his personal feelings dominate his business dealings, and he ends up ordering the murder of many workers employed by the four families. Although this use of power is forceful, it has its limitations. Sonny temporarily subdues the four families, but harms his business in the process. Also, he fails to establish a lasting power, like the Don. Sonny's power is like a fierce fire, which causes a lot of destruction but soon burns out. In contrast, the Don's power is like a steady flame that provides a more lasting heat.

Hagen has the opposite problem from Sonny. In business dealings, he tends to rely too much on reason and doesn't take into account enough the personal desire for revenge. So when the four families become submissive, he believes they have accepted defeat. Such a view is rational because all of the families have suffered severe financial loss during the war. Ending the war, therefore, would help business for all involved. However, Hagen fails to factor in the intense hatred the four families have developed for Sonny.

The Don balances business and personal, thereby making his use of power very effective. He realizes the need for cool, calculating reason, while all the time keeping in mind the hatred within himself and the other leaders of the Five Families. He knows no one, except perhaps for members of his immediate family, can be trusted. The Don, therefore, makes decisions that take into account the emotional reactions of his enemies. Because of this, the Don is able to manipulate his opponents, which helps him to exert power for years.

Puzo conveys the theme of the patriarchal family through the conflict between Connie and Carlo. Carlo treats Connie in a sexist manner, beating her up when she displeases him. For her part, Connie accepts this gender role. For example, when Carlo orders Connie to give him something to eat, Connie calms down because she has been called to do one of her domestic duties. She is a good cook and knows she can fill her role as a wife well. However, through his depiction of Connie's and Carlo's argument, Puzo not only shows the sexism in the Corleone's patriarchal family, but does so in a way that is also sexist. Even though Connie has constantly been abused by her husband through beatings and cruel treatment, she still longs to have sex with him. For many women, unless they are masochistic, such abuse would make them despise their partners in every way. However, Connie still wants to make love with brutal Carlo. Such a depiction is sexist because it implies that a woman's life revolves around giving and getting sexual pleasure from her partner, no matter how abusive he or she is.

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