Wiseguy | Study Guide

Nicholas Pileggi

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Course Hero. "Wiseguy Study Guide." June 23, 2017. Accessed January 20, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wiseguy/.


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Wiseguy | Chapter 22 | Summary



After Hill's second arrest, Karen and her children are taken to the FBI office, where the assistant district attorney explains they will need to join the witness protection program because they are in danger. She wonders if they can just let Hill join, and she and the kids can stay behind, but he tells her it's still too dangerous. He also tells her they have enough evidence to indict her on the narcotics case as well, and Karen feels she has no choice. McDonald informs her they must pack and leave everything immediately, and she will never be allowed to contact her family again. The marshals move them around from motel to motel while they create new identities and paperwork for them. Secretly, Karen feels starting over alone will be good for them and she can find a new kind of independence without her mother's meddling. She also feels relieved at the thought of no more drugs or Jimmy Burkes or secret girlfriends—they could just be normal for the first time in their lives.

Hill finally signs an agreement with the United States Department of Justice Organized Crime Force to give up information on Jimmy Burke and the Lufthansa Airline heist, and to testify. In exchange they won't prosecute Hill for his role, or for his narcotics conspiracy arrest. For Hill, the hardest thing is to give up the life he is running from. Despite all the looming threats, he still loves it—the recognition and the celebrity and the money. Now it's over, and everything is different: no action, having to wait around like everyone else. Hill is now just "an average nobody."


Karen's reaction to the knowledge she and Hill have to join the witness protection program is revealing: it shows a glimpse of her growing ambivalence toward her marriage. She's being asked to choose between two families—the one she's created with Hill and the one she grew up with, since she will never be allowed to see her parents or siblings again. Karen seems to feel she can make no choice other than join Henry. Pileggi implicitly points out even though it has been her choice to stay with Hill through thick and thin so far, this may be the end. Yet once she comes to terms with it, she believes starting over might be the best thing for their family. Through all of Hill's troubles and incarcerations, she swooped in to make the best out of bad circumstances, helping him smuggle in contraband to make him comfortable and aiding him in illegal activities when she knew they needed money. Though her commitment to Hill has wavered at points, she has never given up, despite his affairs and their volatility. Pileggi portrays Karen, in her own words, as determined and committed. Her final willingness to accept all the sacrifices of starting over shows her to be a complex and relatable person. It also shows she does perhaps yearn for a more stable life, even if it comes at the cost of losing the glamour and excitement in their lives. Karen muses "I would be really independent for the first time in my life ... I'd be able to breathe and take over my own life." This statement reveals what are perhaps some of Karen's deepest hopes and desires and reflects she feels the absence of these things in her current life.

Despite knowing testifying and joining the witness protection program is the only way to save their lives and start over, Hill's wistfulness at having to give up his old life and ways is palpable. In a certain light starting over at his age is a terrifying prospect—he's never held a "real" job, had a bank account or retirement savings, or lived a relatively normal life. At every turn despite being given opportunities to change, Hill has always chosen a life of crime and recklessness. The question hovers of whether he is even capable of these things. Pileggi also implies the question of just how Hill will define himself without his sense of celebrity, power, and connections. Hill's own narration is drawing close to the time from which he is narrating from, and it doesn't seem as though he has learned much insight about who he might become. The benefits of life in the Mafia have given him a certain sense of entitlement he will no longer have, and the reader senses he will ultimately clash with the new life he has to start—a life with zero crime or connections. The fact Hill believes now "I get to live the rest of my life like schnook" reveals he doesn't see himself like everyone else or like the average person. He still believes he is above them and entitled to more. In this moment Pileggi hints the foundation of Hill's belief system has not changed despite facing the consequences of his actions, and his inability to evolve will cause him great dissatisfaction in his new life. He's not able to assimilate his old way of life into his new existence, which causes the reader to question what, if anything, he has learned from his mistakes.

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