The Godfather | Study Guide

Mario Puzo

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The Godfather | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Book 1

The plot of The Godfather begins in New York City. The undertaker Amerigo Bonasera is infuriated when the two men who brutally beat up his daughter receive a suspended sentence. To get justice, he must see Don Corleone. In Los Angeles, the movie star Johnny Fontaine is humiliated by his unfaithful wife and decides to see his godfather, Don Corleone, for help. In the New York area, a baker named Nazorine wants to prevent an Italian man from being deported back to Italy so that he can marry Nazorine's daughter. To accomplish this, Nazorine decides to see Don Corleone.

In 1945 on an estate on Long Island, Don Vito Corleone gives a lavish, Italian-style wedding for his daughter Connie and the groom Carlo Rizzi. Many people attend, including the Don's three sons: hot-tempered Sonny Corleone; dimwitted Fredo Corleone; and intelligent, independent Michael Corleone, who is accompanied by his fiancée Kay Adams. Kay is unaware about the Don's business. In his office, the Don and a lawyer named Tom Hagen review the list of people who have come to ask favors of the Don. The Don sees Nazorine and says his wish to prevent a deportation of an Italian will be granted. Kay asks Michael about a scary-looking man named Luca Brasi, who is waiting to see the Don. Meanwhile, married Sonny has sex with a bridesmaid, Lucy Mancini. After Bonasera declares his friendship for the Don, the Don says the two thugs who beat up his daughter will suffer similar fates. Johnny comes to the wedding and is greeted by ecstatic fans, including Connie. Johnny meets with the Don and confides he has lost his singing voice. To get back on top, Johnny wants a plum role in a movie, but the studio head, Jack Woltz, won't give it to him. The Don says the matter will be taken care of.

After the wedding, the Don visits his consigliori or counselor, Genco Abbandando, who is in a hospital on his deathbed. Because of Genco's illness, Hagen is temporarily filling the role of consigliori. Hagen takes a plane to Los Angeles to convince Woltz to give Johnny the role he wants. An arrogant man, Woltz declares to Hagen that Johnny will never get the role and kicks the lawyer out of his mansion. A caporegime or captain in the Don's business named Clemenza gives Paulie Gatto an order to beat up the two men who attacked Bonasera's daughter. Paulie and his two accomplices do the job thoroughly.

Woltz wakes up in bed and finds the severed head of his prize racehorse at the foot of the bed. Soon he arranges for Johnny to have the part in the movie. The Don, Hagen, and Sonny meet with Sollozzo, who wants to set up a narcotics racket in the United States. Sollozzo wants protection from the Don, who has strong political connections. The Tattaglia family in New York already supports Sollozzo. However, the Don refuses Sollozzo's offer, saying his political friends would no longer be friends if they knew the Don got involved in narcotics. Three months later, Sollozzo kidnaps Hagen. Michael and Kay read in a newspaper than the Don has been shot, but is still alive. Luca Brasi, the Don's hit man, has gone missing. Sonny gets a call from Sollozzo, who says he'll send Hagen to give a proposition. Sonny orders a caporegime named Tessio to place guards around the Don's hospital room.

Sollozzo tells Hagen that the Don is dead. Sollozzo wants Hagen to convince Sonny to accept the narcotics deal. But when Sollozzo learns that the Don is still alive, he realizes a deal with Sonny is off. At the Don's house, Michael wants to stay in a meeting with Sonny and Tessio, who have made a list of people to kill. Because Michael has not been involved in the family business, Sonny tells him to just answer the phone. Sonny tells Michael that Paulie, the Don's bodyguard, betrayed the Don by pretending to be home sick on the day the Don was shot. Hagen comes to the house and joins the meeting. Hagen tells Sonny that he wants to kill too many people. Sollozzo is the key person to kill, not the Tattaglias. Sonny agrees to sit tight until the Don gets well. If the Don dies, Hagen wants Sonny to make the deal with Sollozzo, but Sonny doesn't like this. Clemenza has a man kill Paulie. Sonny, Hagen, Clemenza, Tessio, and Michael learn that Luca Brasi has been killed.

Michael meets Kay in New York. Kay now knows Michael's family are gangsters, but she believes that Michael is not involved in criminal activities. Michael tells Kay to think about whether she wants to get involved with his family. Michael visits his father in the hospital and is shocked to find no one guarding the Don. Michael calls Sonny and tells him that their father is unprotected. Michael then moves the Don to a different room. Michael and a friend named Enzo stand outside the hospital. They see a car pull up and quickly leave. After this, a crooked cop who protects Sollozzo named McCluskey gets angry at Michael for insisting that the guards be put back. He punches Michael, breaking his jaw. Soon people working for the Corleones arrive and guard the Don. In a meeting with Hagen, Sonny, Clemenza, and Tessio, Michael says he'll kill Sollozzo. Sonny doesn't take his brother seriously. Michael says Sollozzo and the Tattaglias don't think he's involved in the family business. Because of this, he's the only one who could get close enough to Sollozzo to do the job.

Sonny arranges for Michael to meet with Sollozzo and McCluskey. The meeting will be at a restaurant. Clemenza will have a gun planted in the washroom for Michael to use to kill the two men. At the restaurant, Sollozzo tries to convince Michael to have the Corleones accept the narcotics deals. Michael excuses himself and goes to the bathroom. When he returns, he shoots and kills Sollozzo and Clemenza. Michael is then sent into hiding in Sicily. Soon a gang war begins, in which the Corleones battle the Tattaglias and the other four New York families.

Book 2

Hagen meets with Johnny and tells him that the Don wants to make sure he wins the Academy Award for the role he played in the Jack Woltz movie. Also, the Don wants Johnny to become a big player in Hollywood. The Don will finance three to five movies, which Johnny will produce. Johnny hears about Don Vito Corleone being shot. Because of this incident, the Don will only be able to finance one of Johnny's pictures. However, Johnny still wins the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Book 3

At age 12, Vito Corleone came to America from Sicily after his father was murdered by members of the Mafia. As a young man in New York, Vito gets married and has a child. However, he loses his job in a grocery store when a gangster named Fanucci arranges for his nephew to take the position. Vito has trouble finding work and so, with Clemenza and Tessio, steals silk dresses and sells them. But, Fanucci wants a large cut of the money. Instead of being bullied by Fanucci, Vito kills him. Realizing this, Clemenza and Tessio show great respect for Vito. They begin an olive oil business and use ruthless, sometimes illegal, practices to promote it. Vito begins to grant favors to people in his neighborhood in return for later favors. Vito develops a large criminal organization and begins to be called the Don. During the 1930s, the Don wins a gang war, making the Corleones the most powerful Mafia family in New York.

Book 4

Kay visits the Corleone house to find out why Michael has disappeared. Mama Corleone implies that Michael got involved in murder and tells Kay to find a nice, young man. Frustrated about being left out of the Don's family business, Carlo often beats up Connie. When Sonny learns about this, he beats up Carlo. Sonny brings the Don home from the hospital. The Corleones have been outmatched in the war against the other Mafia families in New York. These families refuse to negotiate peace with the Corleones until the family agrees to the narcotics deal. However, Sonny can't agree to this because the Don refused the deal. Sonny learns that Carlo beat up Connie again. Furious, Sonny drives out to Connie's place, leaving his bodyguards in a car far behind. At a toll booth, Sonny is shot to death. Hagen breaks the news about Sonny's death to the Don. The Don wants all acts of war to stop.

Book 5

The Don calls a peace conference, which includes the five New York families and most of the other Mafia families in the United States. At the meeting, the Don says the deaths of Bruno Tattaglia and Sonny wipe each other out. Then, the Don agrees to the narcotics deal. The Don adds he will not seek vengeance for Sonny's death, unless some "accident" happens to Michael. After the meeting, the Don tells Hagen he's going into semi-retirement. The Don wants things arranged so Michael can be brought back from Sicily without being charged with the murders of Sollozzo and McCluskey. Also, the Don says the Barzini family was behind Sollozzo and Tattaglia all the time. The Don convinces a Sicilian man convicted for murder to admit to the killings of Sollozzo and McCluskey. In return, the Sicilian's family will be taken care of for life after his death.

Book 6

In Sicily, Michael hides on an estate under the protection of a Mafia leader named Don Tommasino. When Michael takes walks in the countryside, he is always protected by two bodyguards. During one walk, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful young woman named Apollonia. With her family's permission, Michael courts Apollonia and then marries her. After months of marital bliss, Apollonia is killed by a car bomb, which was intended for Michael. One of the bodyguards, Fabrizzio, betrayed Michael.

Book 7

After earning her college degree, Kay gets a job teaching school. She has not seen Michael for more than three years. She learns from Mama Corleone that Michael has been back in the United States for six months. Kay meets him, and they resume their romantic relationship. Michael wants to marry Kay and says he plans for his family business to be completely legitimate in a few years. Kay considers marrying him.

In Las Vegas, Michael and Hagen meet with Fredo, who is helping to run a hotel. Soon Moe Greene arrives. Michael tells Moe that the Corleone family is planning to shift their business operations from the East to Las Vegas. He wants to buy out Moe's share of the hotel. Moe gets furious and refuses. During the plane ride back to New York, Michael reflects on the last three years. Michael has been married to Kay who bore him a son. The Don and Hagen trained Michael to take over the family business. After Michael returns to New York, he meets with the Don, Hagen, Clemenza, Tessio, and Carlo. At this time, the Barzini and Tattaglia families view the Corleone family as being weak. They know the Don has retired, and Michael has taken his place. Yet, they see Michael as a weak leader, as do Clemenza and Tessio. They disagree with the move to Las Vegas. Michael assures them that everything will be negotiated well. Also, Michael removes Hagen as consigliori because he needs a wartime counselor. Two days later, Moe Greene is shot to death in his home.

While tending to his garden, the Don dies of a heart attack. After the funeral, Clemenza and Tessio urge Michael to attack the Barzini and Tattaglia families before they attack him. Michael tells them to sit tight. The next morning, Michael gets a call from Tessio, arranging a meeting with Barzini. Michael concludes that Tessio has betrayed him and is setting up a trap.

Book 8

A few days later, Michael has Kay and their children go on vacation to New Hampshire. Also, he has Connie and her family go to Las Vegas, except for Carlo who remains at the Corleone's estate in Long Beach. Fabrizzio is shot and killed in a pizza parlor in upstate New York. The leaders of the Barzini and Tattaglia families are shot and killed. Tessio expects to take Michael to the meeting with Barzini. However, when he is told to go ahead without Michael, Tessio knows the Corleones realize he betrayed them. Knowing he's a dead man, Tessio is led by three men to a waiting car. Michael meets with Carlo, accuses him of setting up Sonny's murder, and has Clemenza kill him.

Book 9

With these successful attacks, Michael restores the Corleones as the most powerful family in New York. Connie returns to New York and accuses Michael of killing her husband. She screams at Kay that Michael has just arranged the murder of several men, including Carlo. Shaken, Kay asks Michael if this is true. Michael denies the accusation. But when she sees Clemenza and others pay homage to Michael, she knows her husband has lied.

During the next year, Michael organizes the move of the family business to Las Vegas. Kay converts to Catholicism and raises her two children as Catholics. During a last visit to New York, Kay goes to mass with Mama Corleone, like she does every morning. At the service, Kay receives communion and prays for the soul of Michael Corleone.

The Godfather Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Michael does not want to be in the Mafia.

Rising Action

2 Michael's father, the Don, is shot.

3 Michael protects the Don in a hospital.

4 Michael kills the two men who shot his father.

5 Michael's wife is murdered; he commits to his father.

6 Michael leads the family, planning to move business west.


7 Michael has rival Mafia leaders murdered.

Falling Action

8 Michael makes the Corleones the dominant Mafia family.


9 Michael moves his business and family to the West.

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