Mario Puzo’s The Godfather tells the story of Vito Corleone, an Italian man who emigrates to the U.S. in the 1920s, and, through hard work and determination, starts a business that becomes highly successful and lives a wealthy and prosperous life. This sounds like a pretty inspiring tale, right? After all, stories about immigrants achieving the American Dream like this one have been idealized in American culture, and have even caused many people from other countries to become immigrants themselves after hearing about the “Land of Opportunity”.
Vito’s story, however, is far from idealistic. As film critic Kenneth Turan puts it, the Godfather demonstrates “the dark side of the American Dream”. Corleone makes his way in America through organized crime. By controlling various illicit activities such as gambling and the sale of illegal imports, Vito is able to accumulate vast wealth and power and live lavishly in his mall and Long Island. Throughout his career, he is responsible for the murders of numerous enemies, and mercilessly crushes all who stand in his way towards becoming more powerful.
The Corleone Crime Family, as the name suggests, is strongly familial organization. All but one of Vito’s sons are involved in the family business, and it is expected to be passed down to on of the sons when Vito dies. The familialism of the mafia draws close parallels to other immigrant stories, including that of my ancestors.
My great grandparents were Jews living in Russia during a time when their people were being heavily oppressed by the Cossacks. As a result of this oppression, they moved to the United States like many others during the time period. They set up a small fruit stand that gradually grew and grew as it was passed down from one family member to the next. Today, the business is the multi-million dollar supermarket chain of Price Chopper, and it remains entirely family owned.
I believe the reason Puzo drew so many parallels between the Corleone Crime Family and other, nobler immigrant’s businesses was to make a statement about the flaws with our concept of the American Dream. The American Dream has not always been about money as it is today. James Truslow Adams wrote in his book Epic of America that the American Dream meant “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement,”. He didn’t say anything about owning a house or a car or having kids. However, the term American Dream quickly evolved to a much more materialistic idea. To live the American Dream means to own a lot of material things and have a lot of money.
At the same time, consumerism first came into play as a force in American culture. What mattered the most about a person was how many things they owned and how frequently they acquired new things. The Godfather points out that with this newfound obsession with materialistic things led to a moral decay. When society is motivated by greed and money, moral behavior is not rewarded and people will change. If a person who kills, steals, and manipulates people is society’s idea of living the dream, something about that society isn’t right.
Money has been given too much power over American culture. The American Dream shouldn’t be about money, but rather about moral ideals.Greed has no place in American Creed. The American Dream is the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness(Declaration of Independence). The American Dream is the right to free speech(U.S. Const., Amend. I). The American Dream is peace, equality, and fairness. The American Dream is living the life you want to live. These values and ideals are what hold together the very fabric of American culture, and are what have allowed to flourish as a nation throughout our history.
Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. Little Brown, 1931.
Akkan, Goksu Gigi. “THE GODFATHER AND THE AMERICAN DREAM.” Journal of Media Critiques [JMC], mediacritiques.net/index.php/jmc/article/view/90.
Kenneth Turan | Kenneth Turan is The Times’ film critic. “A Revival You Can’t Refuse.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 16 Mar. 1997, articles.latimes.com/1997-03-16/entertainment/ca-38659_1_godfather-ii.
Puzo, Mario. The Godfather. Berkley, 2016.
“The American Dream What Is The American Dream?” Students – Procedure – The American Dream – Lesson Plan | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/american-dream/students/thedream.html.