Literature Study GuidesThe GodfatherBook 5 Chapter 20 Summary

The Godfather | Study Guide

Mario Puzo

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The Godfather | Book 5, Chapter 20 | Summary

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Summary

Book 5, Chapter 20 of The Godfather explores the aftermath of Sonny Corleone's death. The four Mafia families prepare for an onslaught of revenge from Don Vito Corleone. However, the Don surprises them by calling for a peace conference between the Corleones, the Five Families, and the other families in the United States, except for the unruly gangsters in Chicago. The Don guarantees the sincerity of his request by using a member of the Bocchicchio family as a hostage. If the negotiations prove to be unsafe, then the hostage is killed, and the Bocchicchios in turn kill the person or people responsible for the unsafe parley.

The peace conference takes place in a plush meeting room in a bank. The Don and Tom Hagen are the first to arrive. Then, the dons of the other U.S. families arrive, including families from the West Coast, Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, and Boston. The last to arrive are the other dons of the New York families, including Don Philip Tattaglia and Don Emilio Barzini. Don Corleone is the first to speak. He wonders how things got so far and explains his reasons for turning down Virgil Sollozzo's offer. He says the death of Bruno Tattaglia and the death of Sonny cancel each other out, so he promises not to seek vengeance for the death of his son. Barzini says that Don Corleone's refusal of Sollozzo prevented the narcotics deal from going forward. For this deal to work, the families need the protection of Don Corleone's political contacts. Don Corleone does not like getting involved in narcotics because he might lose his political contacts. Even so, the Don agrees to provide political protection for a narcotics racket if everyone at the meeting agrees. All of the other dons are impressed by this concession by Don Corleone. The dons agree that drug traffic will be allowed, and Don Corleone will provide legal protection in the East. Tattaglia speaks about how he needs assurance from Don Corleone that he will not take a personal vengeance on him for the death of Sonny. Don Corleone promises he will never seek such vengeance, unless some unforeseen "accident" happens to Michael. Tattaglia and Don Corleone embrace and the other dons applaud.

After the meeting, Don Corleone meets with Peter Clemenza, Salvatore Tessio, and Hagen in his office. The Don wants them to fully cooperate with the other families and keep the peace. He also wants to make arrangements for Michael to come home from Sicily. The Don wants to buy the land surrounding his mall in Long Beach and build a wall around it, thereby creating a type of fortress. The Don plans to go into semi-retirement and do a lot of gardening. After Clemenza and Tessio leave, Hagen tells the Don that not taking vengeance for Sonny's death goes against the Don's character, so the Don has created a "magnificent riddle." The Don says there's a solution to the riddle, which Hagen will eventually discover. The Don admits one reason he made the peace is to keep Michael safe. Barzini's contacts in Sicily were starting to track Michael down. The Don adds that Barzini was behind Sollozzo and Tattaglia all the time.

Analysis

In Book 5, Chapter 20, Puzo interrelates the themes of the patriarchal family, loyalty versus treachery, power and greed, and business versus personal. To analyze these interrelationships, unraveling the Don's riddle and thereby seeing the peace conference from his viewpoint will prove helpful. The riddle centers on Michael. The Don realizes from Michael's killing of Sollozzo and McCluskey that his son has the qualities needed to be a worthy successor. Michael showed a cold, calculated planning as well as an understanding of the motives of his enemies. Because of this, the Don knows he can go into semi-retirement and tend his garden because the family will be in good hands. Therefore, the Don wants to make sure Michael gets back safely to America not only because of his love for his son, but also for the benefit of the family business. The Don sees Michael as his secret weapon.

The Don knows Michael will be an unexpected weapon because the other dons will not imagine that Don Corleone will give up his power before he dies. Don Corleone knows the other dons like himself are motivated by power and greed. The more power they can get the better, and they will cling to this power until their last breath. Also, as members of strict patriarchal families the dons have too much pride in themselves as male heads to admit they will not live much longer. Such an admission would seem like a sign of weakness. Because of this, the dons are puzzled why Don Corleone wants to sue for peace. They expect him to want to lead his family back to its previous glory. Indeed, at the peace conference, Don Corleone gives an impression of being surprisingly healthy after being shot five times. So the idea that the Don will allow Michael to take control of the family business while he tends his garden seems out of the question. Don Corleone needs to convince the other dons that he's sincere about having peace.

The Don must assure the four families that he plans no treachery at the peace conference. He does this by using a member of the Bocchicchio family as a hostage. Although the dons are motivated by greed and vengeance, the Don flatters them by appealing to them as rational businessmen. The dons are cutthroats who like to present themselves as dignified, reasonable, and even moral men. Because of this, the Don of Detroit says he does not want drugs given to children. He says, "That is an infamita." So the dons all agree with Don Corleone to put aside their personal vendettas and work together peacefully as businessmen. They cannot admit, at least publically, the hypocrisy of such an arrangement. The dons may think Don Corleone plans some secret vengeance, but they can't imagine how this could happen. Tattaglia expresses this when he says, "But I would like to hear ... strict assurances from Corleone. Will he attempt ... individual vengeance?" The Don reaffirms his promise to keep the peace, unless an "accident" befalls Michael. Tattaglia and the other dons know Don Corleone keeps his word. So, despite any suspicions, the dons agree to peace with Don Corleone. The dons cannot conceive that Don Corleone is planning to get his vengeance years into the future through his son Michael. When Tattaglia and Barzini give their promises not to harm Michael, they are also enabling Don Corleone to get his vengeance on them.

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