Don Vito Corleone
Don Vito Corleone suffers a traumatic experience as a 12-year-old child in Sicily when his father is murdered by a Mafia leader. To escape death himself, Vito is shipped to America. At first, he seems like a quiet, responsible young man. He works in a grocery store, gets married, and has children. Vito's quiet reserve hides an intelligent man with vision and a gift for organization. However, the Sicilian trait of male honor is deeply ingrained in Vito. Because of this, Vito would rather kill a man than be dishonored or humiliated by him. This fierce pride leads Vito into a life of crime. He uses his abilities to establish the Corleone family as the dominant Mafia group in the New York area. He comes to be called the Don, which is the title for a leader of a Mafia family. The Don on the surface appears like a warm and generous father of his family. However, underneath he is a secretive man who never reveals his true emotions to anyone except a trusted few. He is cunning and ruthless, while keeping the appearance of affability. For example, when the Don says he'll reason with a person, this person will be forced to agree with him or be killed. Perhaps the Don's greatest ability is his far-reaching vision. He can plan an enemy's demise years in advance. The Don justifies his criminal actions by viewing established society as being more unfair than his crime world.
The youngest son of Don Vito Corleone, Michael Corleone has many of the same qualities as his father. Michael is intelligent, secretive, visionary, and independent. However, because of his independence, Michael at first does not want to follow his father into a life of crime. Instead, he becomes a war hero during World War II and later becomes engaged to a respectable young woman, Kay Adams. However, Michael also shares his father's fierce belief in male honor and loyalty to his family. As a result, when the Don is severely wounded, Michael gets drawn into protecting him. To uphold his honor as a male Corleone, Michael volunteers to kill two of his father's enemies. After he does this, Michael becomes immersed in the Mafia. While hiding in Sicily, he falls in love with Apollonia and marries her. This marriage can be seen as an attempt by Michael to salvage some of the life he originally planned, namely having a loving marriage and children. However, when Apollonia is killed, Michael descends completely into the criminal world. He seems unable to have true affection for anyone, except perhaps his father and Kay Adams, whom he marries. Consumed by hatred and a desire for vengeance, Michael coolly plans the business future of his family, which involves the defeat of rival Mafia families.
The eldest son of Don Vito Corleone, Sonny Corleone has a fierce temper and lacks the cool, calculating intelligence of his father. He is a man who lets his passions get the best of him. For example, even though he is married, he has a long, passionate affair with Lucy Mancini. However, Sonny has another side. As a child, he was softhearted. For instance, he once brought home an orphan boy named Tom Hagen, who ended up being raised by the family. Also, Sonny never hit a woman, which could not be said for many of his associates. After the Don is severely wounded, Sonny assumes the role of Don for his family. But because of his temper, Sonny gets the family involved in a long, bloody gang war with rival families. Eventually, Sonny's temper becomes his undoing. When he hears that his sister Connie has been beaten by her husband Carlo, Sonny recklessly drives into New York to go after Carlo without the protection of his bodyguards. As a result, he is shot to death at a toll booth.
Sonny Corleone found Tom Hagen as a boy, wandering the streets of New York. Hagen's parents were dead. Sonny brought Hagen home and Don Vito Corleone became the boy's guardian. Forever grateful to the Don, Hagen became the devoted lawyer for the Corleone family. Hagen's greatest strength is his ability to reason effectively. He has a keen mind and is able think matters through thoroughly. However, for the Corleones, Hagen's biggest weakness is his timidity. He lacks the confidence to take brutal action when needed, such as ordering the killing of an enemy. Because of his intelligence, the Don makes Hagen his consigliori, even though Hagen is not Sicilian. However, when a gang war develops, Michael Corleone removes Hagen from this position because he lacks the decisiveness needed for wartime activities. Even so, Hagen remains loyal to the Corleone family and helps their business relocation to Las Vegas.
Kay Adams is an intelligent young woman, who was raised in a traditional family in New Hampshire. In college, she gets engaged to Michael Corleone, not knowing much about his family. When she learns that Michael's family are gangsters, she views this as a colorful detail about her fiancé that adds some distinctiveness to their relationship. Kay remains totally devoted to Michael and trusts him when he says he will not get involved in the family business. She seems like a nice, compliant woman, whose life centers around having a husband. Later, when Kay realizes Michael has disappeared because he murdered two men, she remains emotionally attached to him. Even though she gets work as a school teacher, her true happiness still seems dependent on being with Michael. When Michael reappears, Kay easily falls back into a romantic relationship with him, even though she knows he has become involved in the Mafia. Eventually, Kay marries Michael, has children, and converts to Catholicism, thereby completely assimilating herself into the patriarchal Corleone family. Like her mother-in-law Mama Corleone, Kay knows she lacks any power in her family. So she goes to mass each day with Mama Corleone to pray for the soul of Michael.
Connie Corleone is the youngest child and only daughter of Don Vito Corleone. As a child, she was a somewhat nervous girl, who could use her girlish wiles to influence her powerful father. She often got into fights with her brothers. However, as an adult, Connie adopts the role of the traditional Italian-American woman. She marries at a young age and immediately starts to have children. She has a strong physical attraction to her husband, Carlo Rizzi. Carlo, though, turns out to be an abusive husband who beats his wife. When she is first beaten, Connie realizes with shock that her once doting father supports her husband's abuse. Despite the beatings, Connie remains physically attracted to Carlo; but she does display her temper toward Carlo, having fierce arguments with him. After Sonny dies, Connie fears that her brother Michael blames Carlo for the death of Sonny. Carlo stops beating his wife when he gets more involved in the family business. On the surface, Connie seems to have achieved a happy marriage; but she remains uneasy about Michael, afraid that his apparent friendliness to Carlo is just a disguise. Eventually, Connie realizes her fears are justified. She rightly accuses Michael of having Carlo killed and becomes hysterical. Even so, Connie makes up with Michael and again becomes an obedient member of the Corleone family.
Carlo Rizzi is the half-Sicilian husband of Connie Corleone. He is a handsome, physically strong man. Also, Carlo is a self-centered person concerned mainly with getting money and power. For example, after his wedding, Carlo insists on getting the money given to the bride and beats Connie to get it. However, Carlo has delusions of grandeur, seeing himself as a potential Mafia leader even though he lacks the intelligence. Because of this delusion, Carlo becomes frustrated when Don Vito Corleone refuses to give him an important job in the family business. He takes out his frustration by beating Connie. The only thing that keeps Carlo in line is the threat of violence or death. For instance, after Sonny Corleone beats up Carlo over abusing Connie, Carlo stops the abuse. Carlo's downfall is his overestimation of his cleverness. He betrays the Corleones by setting up the killing of Sonny. No doubt Carlo hopes the Corleone family will soon collapse, and he'll take over the operation. However, when the Corleones remain in control of their operations, Carlo is stuck in the family. Also, because of his lack of intelligence, Carlo is duped into believing that Michael does not hold him accountable for Sonny's death. Again, Carlo is mistaken, which he realizes with horror when Michael comes to kill him.