Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Wiseguy Study Guide." Course Hero. 23 June 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2019. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, June 23). Wiseguy Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 18, 2019, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Wiseguy Study Guide." June 23, 2017. Accessed January 18, 2019.


Course Hero, "Wiseguy Study Guide," June 23, 2017, accessed January 18, 2019,

Wiseguy | Symbols



Cash is a symbol of status, wealth, and power throughout Wiseguy. Hill and his fellow wiseguys mainly hustle for cash, and they seem to experience a high when they are able to purchase things with stolen cash and credit cards—to them it signifies they have "pulled one over" on someone. Yet, rarely do Hill or the wiseguys attempt to save their money or make noncriminal investments, as the system becomes more of a game to them. They are constantly betting all of their money, having to borrow cash from loan sharks, and pay it back. Cash is also the only way any of them are able to survive comfortably in prison, since they must pay off guards and lawyers to maintain their quality of life. Nicholas Pileggi demonstrates how cash is at the center of every decision the wiseguys make, and also how an obsession with it leads to many of their downfalls.


The prominent appearance of drugs doesn't feature in Wiseguy until Hill's introduction to selling them while in prison. This is because of Paul Vario's firm rule none of his crew are to ever deal drugs, a decision based on seeing his best friend imprisoned for merely nodding to a drug dealer. Hill's respect and wish to please Vario runs deep, but he can't help himself once he discovers drug dealing in prison—it's really the only boon that keeps him financially afloat and he realizes how much money he can make. Yet, it's drugs that eventually lead to Hill's arrest and downfall after police on a wiretap nab him. By this point, Hill himself has become dependent on cocaine, a habit that begins to blur his once-stellar intuition into paranoia and confusion. Pileggi emphasizes the role drugs play to represent Hill's swift downfall once he becomes involved with them, symbolizing the increasingly stupid risks he takes.


Guns symbolize the prominence of violence in Mafia culture throughout the book. Not only do the wiseguys use them to commit murder and beatings, but they are also a customary mode of self-protection and a way to make money. Hill gets involved with gunrunning a few times throughout his career, a venture that is just as risky as his drug running. Even Karen is no stranger to guns, brandishing Hill's at him when she discovers his girlfriend, and hiding one for him in her underwear when police search their house. The fact Karen, who didn't grow up in Mafia culture, becomes so comfortable handling guns shows just how embedded in Hill's lifestyle she has become, and how volatile their relationship is. Pileggi highlights the role of guns in Hill's story to demonstrate how cavalierly many of the characters treat violence in their daily lives, and owning or using a gun is as normal as chewing gum for them.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Wiseguy? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!