Wiseguy | Study Guide

Nicholas Pileggi

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Course Hero. "Wiseguy Study Guide." Course Hero. 23 June 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2019. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wiseguy/>.

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Course Hero. (2017, June 23). Wiseguy Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 18, 2019, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wiseguy/

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Course Hero. "Wiseguy Study Guide." June 23, 2017. Accessed January 18, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wiseguy/.


Course Hero, "Wiseguy Study Guide," June 23, 2017, accessed January 18, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wiseguy/.

Wiseguy | Chapter 4 | Summary



Hill returns to New York after a few years, having spent the last few months of his army time in the stockade after getting into a brawl. Back in New York, Hill falls back into a friendship with Vario's son Lenny, and they become partners. Vario gets Lenny and Hill jobs in the bricklayers' union, where they rarely show up to work or pay their union dues. After their boss grows fed up, Vario gets them jobs at Azores, a fancy restaurant and hotel. Vario's strategy is to get Lenny closer to Tommy Lucchese, the owner of the hotel and the head of the Lucchese crime family. Tommy is the boss of the whole garment center and controls the airports. Hill and Lenny see the Azores as their own private club, witnessing how the rich live. A "front man," Tommy Morton, who despises Hill and Lenny since they are unqualified for their jobs and steal from him, runs the hotel. But, Tommy can't do anything about it, because Hill and Lenny are attached to Vario. One day Hill and Lenny walk out on their jobs after being insulted by the chef, which infuriates Vario. Hill and Lenny begin stealing credit card numbers and making large purchases using fake IDs. Hill also begins selling cartons of cigarettes imported from the South, where they cost almost two dollars less. Once the cops catch on, Hill and his partner Tommy are forced to buy their own trucks to haul the cigarettes. Eventually, other crews begin the same tactic, which floods the market. By then, Hill is stealing cars.

Hill also still works for Vario, driving him around. He likens Vario to an owner who oversees everyone in his franchise, since he gets the final piece of everything. Vario rarely has to interact with anyone, however, telling his higher-up men to deal with any problems that arise. Vario also doesn't have a secretary or take any notes but runs entire businesses in his head. He also doesn't have to pay any of his workershe simply provides protection. Hill likens Vario and his organization to a police department for wiseguys, who can't risk interactions with real police. Vario's organization has a good relationship with the police after paying them off for so many years. Politicians also need the organization's help and therefore are often reminded they owe the Varios assurance they will help them out in return. Everyone Hill knows is involved in a money scheme, and almost nobody is ever caught. For Hill, this normalizes bribery and corruption and makes them seem like harmless, mostly safe endeavors.


Hill seems compulsively drawn to the excitement of risk and absorbs the mob philosophy of seeing other people who aren't gaming the system as prey. Once he's back in New York, it seems inevitable he will fall back into his old ways with the family he has chosen. Now that he's no longer a minor, he learns about how to operate as a wiseguy in adulthood, and a whole new world of schemes opens for him.

Pileggi also highlights the delicate, behind-the-scenes strategies of the mob hierarchy that exist among the five "crime families." This depiction shows how volatile and transient the hierarchy can be, when no one is ever really safe from harm and it's hard to know people's true motives. This mentality causes many of the wiseguys to maintain suspicion of each other while also forging fierce and loyal bonds, a paradox that seems strange and tense. Many of the men jockey for power while also having to show respect to those higher up in the hierarchy, and play by many unwritten codes and rules. Hill also learns about how paying his dues keeps him protected by Vario, a relationship he can use to his advantage for quite some time.

Hill also begins to graduate to more and more complex crimes and schemes, showing an upward trajectory that mirrors the greater risks he takes. Seeing how cavalierly Vario and the other wiseguys treat the consequences of their crimes paves the way for him to grow bolder and more comfortable with the risks he accumulates. Hill offers a fascinating view on how Vario's hierarchy works within the great organization of the mob, like an owner of multiple franchises who doesn't have to do much at this point other than collect the money he is owed. Pileggi highlights the situational irony men at Vario's level operate as a kind of "wiseguy police" in order to keep the peace among warring factions, settling disputes since they can't risk interacting with actual police. The situational irony here is wiseguys despise the actual police, yet have recreated their own system, which mirrors the work it does. Here Pileggi suggests even a lawless, crime-loving group needs its own rules and laws to stay functional. He also highlights the understanding between the wiseguys and the police—an understanding usually involving money—despite their mutual suspicion.

This shows how the mob has its influence not only in its immediate community, but on another level of society as well, along with politicians. For Hill, this fluid ability to move in and out of these circles unscathed becomes normal. He notes "when you're doing different schemes, and everyone you know is doing these things, and nobody is getting caught, except by accident, you begin to get the message that maybe it's not so dangerous." This rationalization helps Hill and other wiseguys become emboldened and sometimes careless in the risks they take, not realizing what's at stake.

Pileggi's tactic of shifting certain parts of the story into Hill's own words highlights at times Hill's own attitude toward all the crimes he committed. Even though the reader knows this story is being told by Hill years after the fact—and after he has been caught—he seems to express little remorse for his actions, even when they harmed other people in his community. This demonstrates the ways in which Hill has really absorbed the wiseguy worldview he was indoctrinated with, and getting caught did little to cause any sort of self-reflection about the consequences of his actions.

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