The Godfather | Study Guide

Mario Puzo

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The Godfather | Quotes


For justice we must go on our knees to Don Corleone.

Amerigo Bonasera, Book 1, Chapter 1

Bonasera reveals the primary reason why the Mafia got started. Oppressed people looked to the Mafia for justice when they received none by established society. In America Bonasera faces a similar situation to the one peasants faced in Sicily. The law court fails to provide justice. It allows the two men who brutally beat his daughter to go free. Bonasera feels the only way he can receive justice is to ask for it from Don Corleone.


Some day ... I will call upon you to do me a service in return.

Don Vito Corleone, Book 1, Chapter 1

The Don shows the basic relationship that enables him to gain power in the criminal underworld. This relationship is based on granting a favor and expecting a favor in return. In reality this dynamic is based on the fear of death. Bonasera knows if he doesn't grant a return favor to the Don he will probably be killed. By using a system in which people owe him favors, the Don gains more and more power.


I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.

Don Vito Corleone, Book 1, Chapter 1

The Don says this statement in connection with an offer he is going to make through Tom Hagen to the movie producer Jack Woltz. It's accurate because a person in essence cannot refuse what the Don wants. If Woltz turns down the offer, then the Don will get what he wants by coercing him in some way. As things turn out, this is what happens. Later, Michael echoes his father's line in reference to an offer he is going to make to Moe Greene.


You let women dictate your actions and they are not competent in this world.

Don Vito Corleone, Book 1, Chapter 1

The Don says this to his godson, Johnny Fontaine. The words show how the Don views the role of women in the strict patriarchal Corleone family. According to this view, women are weaker than men and are thus given no power. Because of this a man should never let a woman dictate his actions. If he does this, he shows himself to be weak.


He stroked the horse's mane and called out softly, 'Khartoum, Khartoum.'

Jack Woltz, Book 1, Chapter 1

Woltz reveals to Tom Hagen his love for his horse Khartoum. By doing this Woltz also reveals his main weakness. The Don and other Mafia leaders usually try to find weak points in their enemies and attack them. Woltz is the Don's enemy because he refuses to give Johnny Fontaine a part in a movie. Soon Woltz finds the severed head of his horse in his bed. Before long, Johnny gets the movie role.


It's business. Even the shooting of your father was business, not personal.

Tom Hagen, Book 1, Chapter 8

Hagen recites a basic credo of the Mafia, namely that murder is done for business reasons, not personal ones. However, this distinction proves to be false. Most of the murders committed by gangsters are motivated by revenge. Also, these murders usually provide the culprits with a business advantage. In reality, therefore, business and personal affairs are entwined.


Some people want to kill you, understand? But I'm here so don't be afraid.

Michael Corleone, Book 1, Chapter 9

Michael shows the main reason why he becomes involved in the Mafia, namely his love for his father. Michael feels a fierce desire to protect the Don and becomes angry when he realizes a crooked cop has left his father unprotected at a hospital. So a threat to his family fuels Michael's anger, which leads to him committing murder.


Vito ... felt a cold anger for ... Fanucci. He never showed this anger in any way.

Narrator, Book 3, Chapter 14

The Don reveals the beginning of a split in his personality. One side of him can act like a calm, rational businessman and family man. However, the dark side of him harbors a bitter hatred. The Don never shows this hatred, but instead lets it motivate his acts of murder and terror. Through this split, the Don personifies the combination of business and personal in the Mafia.


I'll reason with him.

Don Vito Corleone, Book 3, Chapter 14

The Don uses this phrase to indicate that he is about to attack an opponent if this person continues to refuse what the Don wants. The Don, therefore, uses the phrase in a mocking way, as if saying rational arguments are inferior to the best kind of "reason," namely brute force. The Don knows this reasoning hardly ever fails to work because a person wants to stay alive.


What would the world come to if people kept carrying grudges against all reason?

Don Vito Corleone, Book 5, Chapter 20

This quote shows the extreme hypocrisy of the Mafia. At a Mafia peace conference, the Don treats other Mafia Dons with respect like a distinguished, rational businessman. But he knows that these Dons like himself constantly carry grudges, causing them to commit seemingly endless vendettas. Because of these grudges, Sonny had been carrying on a long, bloody gang war against the Tattaglia family. After the peace conference, despite appearances to the contrary, the Don plans to continue to act on his grudges through his son Michael.


We will manage our world for ourselves because it is our world, cosa nostra.

Don Vito Corleone, Book 5, Chapter 20

The Don refers to the secret, underworld of the Mafia, which gangsters see as being more honorable and just than established society. The term cosa nostra means our thing. The Don says this quote at a Mafia peace conference. He is appealing to the pride of other Mafia Dons about this separate world they have created, which has proved to be very profitable. For the established legal system to get involved in this world would be an insult to them all and could land them in jail.


Tattaglia is a pimp. He could never have outfoxed Santino.

Don Vito Corleone, Book 5, Chapter 20

The Don reveals the treachery inherent with life in the Mafia. He knows despite appearances at the Mafia peace conference that Barzini not Tattaglia planned the killing of Sonny. Also, the Don will use this knowledge to help him plan a treachery of his own against both Barzini and Tattaglia.


Tell my father I wish to be his son.

Michael Corleone, Book 6, Chapter 24

By saying this, Michael makes a complete commitment to his father and to the patriarchal Corleone family. After his wife has been killed, Michael knows the hatred he feels for revenge will propel him on one course of action, namely seeking vengeance on his enemies, thereby making the Corleone family once again the dominant force in the Mafia. Like his father, Michael's personality has split into an apparently normal, rational side and a ruthless, cold-blooded side.


You're my older brother ... But don't ever take sides with anybody against the family again.

Michael Corleone, Book 7, Chapter 27

Michael says this to his brother Fredo, who has dared to support Moe Greene and doubt his family. The phrase shows the extreme importance Michael places on loyalty and his vigilance in looking out for treachery. For Michael, what happens in the family stays in the family. Outsiders should never learn what a member of the Corleone family is really thinking or feeling. Secrecy is paramount because it enables Michael to complete his devious plans, which are based on surprising his enemies. Also, the threat couched in this quote indicates that Michael is willing to harm members of his family to maintain secrecy.


Revenge is a dish that tastes best when it is cold.

Don Vito Corleone, Book 7, Chapter 28

The Don implies that taking revenge works best when the revenge is delayed. By doing this, the white-hot anger that motivates the revenge has turned into a cold, calculating hatred. Also, because of this delay, the enemy is more likely to be taken by surprise, making the revenge more effective.

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