The Godfather | Study Guide

Mario Puzo

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The Godfather | Symbols


Human Beauty and Ugliness

In The Godfather Puzo uses human beauty to symbolize the surface or public appearance presented by the Corleone family. Many people in this family are physically attractive, including Connie, Sonny, and Michael. In addition, the family often behaves with apparent normalcy. For instance, Michael sends Connie and her children, minus Carlo, off on a vacation—a seemingly normal act.

However, this surface beauty is a façade that hides an internal ugliness within the family. The author often contrasts human beauty in one chapter with its ugly counterpart in a later chapter. For example, Puzo uses this technique when Connie appears beautiful at her wedding and then later appears with a beaten face after her husband hits her. When Michael, whose face is half attractive and half deformed, sends Connie on vacation, he is, in reality, planning the murder of Carlo: "There was a foul odor in ... the car ... Carlo's body ... had voided itself."


In The Godfather doors symbolize a person's transition from normalcy to the secretive and death-filled world of the Mafia. One of the most striking uses of this symbol occurs in Chapter 14 where Vito Corleone passes through two doors as he tracks Fanucci, the person he plans to kill. Previously, Vito has been shown as a quiet, responsible family man. However, through the killing of Fanucci, he transitions into a cold killer.

Also, the symbol of doors appears during the killings in Chapter 31. During many of these murders, an apparently normal situation shifts dramatically to something more sinister when a character moves through a door. Finally, Kay fully realizes the extent of Michael's criminal activities when she sees his henchmen come through a door and pay homage to him. By witnessing this, Kay transitions from an obedient housewife who tries to think the best of her husband to a person who is horrified that her husband is a murderer.


In The Godfather Puzo uses baptism as a symbol that represents two types of admissions. First, baptism has a traditional significance for Connie and Carlo, specifically the acceptance of their baby into the Catholic Church. However, this baptism happens at a time when Michael Corleone is about to execute his destruction of the Barzini-Tattaglia alliance. Because of this, the baptism takes on a more sinister meaning for Michael, namely a ritual that marks his emergence as the most powerful Mafia leader in America. In addition, these two meanings emphasize how the Mafia and the Catholic Church interrelate. The church provides a surface appearance of legitimacy and family values for the Mafia, which they hide behind. Michael takes advantage of this when he becomes the child's godfather at the baptism and treats Carlo in a friendly way at the baptism party. However, in reality, Michael is using this pious façade to put Carlo off his guard, which makes killing him easier. Also, the Mafia no doubt helps the Catholic Church by indirectly providing financial donations.

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