Wiseguy | Study Guide

Nicholas Pileggi

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Course Hero. "Wiseguy Study Guide." June 23, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wiseguy/.


Course Hero, "Wiseguy Study Guide," June 23, 2017, accessed November 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wiseguy/.

Wiseguy | Chapter 10 | Summary



Killing is just a routine fact of life to the wiseguys. Hill notes "murder was the only way everybody stayed in line." Burke once even killed his best friend for selling him out to the police—killing someone sends a clear message to the others the stakes of not staying in line. Hill believes the men liked killing and would talk about their favorite hits. One night, his friend Billy insults his other friend Tommy, and a few weeks later Tommy corners Billy inside Hill's restaurant, smashing a gun in his head and killing him. The problem, however, is Billy is "untouchable," a made man. A made man in the Mafia cannot be killed without guaranteed retaliation from their Mafia "family," and therefore Billy would have to have the okay from the higher-ups of both families in order to be killed by someone from the Lucchese family. If the Gambinos ever find out Tommy killed Billy, the Lucchese crime family would be in trouble. The men decide to bury his body upstate; three months later, Burke tells them they have to move his body, because the property they buried him on is being sold. Tommy and Hill drive back upstate to dig up the body and bring it to a junkyard. The smell of the decomposing body haunts Hill, causing him to sell his car. Tommy grows increasingly erratic and violent, and Hill becomes convinced he is a psychopath. He rashly kills another guy named Spider for insulting him, and this time Burke makes Tommy dig a hole for the body in the cellar of Tommy's basement.

Hill feels every day is some kind of war, or sit-down, with the men constantly losing their tempers. Even the normally coolheaded Vario gets upset with a restaurant owner whom he feels disrespected him. Hill notes they never stopped to think why they whacked and murdered so many people, or how it might affect their business, but in hindsight sees it began to damage the business.


This chapter goes into psychological detail about how men like Hill are able to justify killing and murder in their line of work. Hill rarely shows empathy or remorse for his actions, and only a few times does he demonstrate a real concern for the welfare of someone else. Murder is both the most present and least-discussed aspect of Hill's life as a wiseguy and is accepted in the same way breathing air to stay alive is accepted. Hill's insight many of the wiseguys actually enjoy the act of murder brings up an uneasy question about the psychological states of many of these men—such as the possibility of sociopathic tendencies. Yet, even within this seemingly lawless world there are unwritten laws, such as the concept of a "made" man who is considered untouchable unless someone higher up the chain approves his murder. This leads to a general sense of uneasiness one's life can be snuffed out at any time if the wrong person is angered or in a bad mood that day.

The incident of Hill's exhumation of a decomposing body, however, shows even though he is cavalier in discussing murders by other wiseguys, killing is not in his wheelhouse and he tries to stay out of trouble on either side of it. His is haunted by what he sees and smells, which points to a rare moment of self-doubt and weakness in Hill's constitution. It also highlights his permanent over-awareness of where he stands with his fellow wiseguys on any given day to prevent his own death. Even though he respects men like Burke and Tommy, he knows he can never truly let his guard down around them because of what they are capable of. His rare moment of self-reflection on the function of all these murders only reveals how he saw their damage to the businesses, rather than the taking of many lives. The way he recounts how wiseguys discuss the hits as though they are business deals gone wrong shows how they are able to justify them to themselves. He ponders why "nobody ever thought, Why? What for?" Yet Hill doesn't seem to be able to grasp the paradox of living in the wiseguy world of breaking laws and rules, only to punish its own for breaking unwritten laws and rules. He seems to sense it is wrong, but his logic for understanding it is flawed.

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