Wiseguy | Study Guide

Nicholas Pileggi

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Wiseguy | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Hill's working-class neighborhood is a haven for thousands of Italian American immigrants and Eastern European Jews looking to create better lives for their families. But, Brownsville also becomes an ideal working ground for the mob. Its proximity to the waterfront and racetracks as well as its multiethnic alliances help organized crime flourish. The development of what will become Kennedy Airport also helps move stolen goods in and out quickly. Paul Vario runs one of the city's toughest and most ruthless gangs, doing most of the violent work for the Lucchese crime family. Vario's men who work for him have a history of being outlaws, or kids who always got in trouble. They are used to being scrutinized by the police and therefore have little fear of them. The wiseguys see anyone not involved in their world as prey; if they get taken advantage of, it is their own fault. They also see them as fools for following rules and struggling to get by and would rather take their chances in exchange for security. Violence, not smarts, comes naturally to them, and this gives them their advantage. This also means their community—even the merchants, teachers, and garbage collectors—protects them by allowing wiseguys to recreate the social hierarchy. This kind of insularity also helps to nurture the mob, rendering them immune from consequences for their crimes. In exchange street crime is nearly nonexistent—few burglaries, muggings, and rapes occur because anyone who doesn't belong is suspicious. For example, Hill witnesses a stranger thrown off a roof for attempting to mug a girl on the street.

Hill joins the military paratroopers when he turns 17, in what turns out to be good timing after J. Edgar Hoover launches an investigation into the Mafia. A list of names connected to the mob is published, including the members of the Lucchese crime family. Hill loves the army, where he is stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Even there he finds a way to hustle money by selling excess food from the kitchen to restaurants and hotels. He also begins loan-sharking and running card and dice games. He keeps in touch with Vario and Tuddy, and they send him money on occasion when he needs it.

Analysis

Pileggi is careful to paint Hill's neighborhood in broader strokes than just his own small world with his family and the Varios. In a wider context, the Hills are like any other struggling immigrant family in the neighborhood trying to create a better and more stable life. Because it is a working-class neighborhood, its physical location is on the outskirts of the borough, which also gives it an advantage for the dealings of the Mafia. Since the neighborhood is full of tight-knit cultural groups of immigrants, the alliances that are forged between these groups pave the way for a culture and hierarchy the mob can take advantage of—people know in order for the mob to keep the streets "safe" from outsiders, they must agree to keep silent about whatever crime they do witness.

The wiseguys have created their own culture and worldview: in order to cope with the immigrant struggle to survive and create a better life in a society and era that looked down on immigrants, they view as "prey" anyone who doesn't take advantage of their presence. They believe "to live otherwise was foolish," and this worldview informs their every action. Pileggi is careful to point out many other immigrants in their community were grateful for the protection and security the mob offered, and this protection went both ways when it came to dealing with the police. It also highlights how this kind of insular community helped become a breeding ground for mob recruits like Hill. Pileggi takes great care to depict just how embedded and respected the mob is in the neighborhood to show how inextricably linked they are, and how they both need each other.

Pileggi also highlights the building of what will become Kennedy Airport as an important location to the mob—it's perfectly situated to aid them in large-scale heists and crimes, and since many of its employees come from the neighborhood, they have a built-in system of spies and intelligence that gains them access and information. Pileggi also suggests one of the reasons the Varios celebrated Hill's first arrest is it taught him to get used to the police—many of the wiseguys treat jail and court like going to the dentist.

Hill's tendency to slip back into illegal activities even while in the army demonstrates he seems to have some inherent nature that craves the excitement and risk that comes with illegal activities, and he's not ready to cut ties entirely with the men who seem to be his "chosen" family, since they still provide for him whenever he needs it. Vario and the other wiseguys seem to sense the army is just a phase for Hill, and perhaps they did get their hooks into him young enough to bring him back to their enterprise when he's had enough of the "straight" world.

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