The Godfather: Dissecting Michael Corleone

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The Godfather written by Mario Puzo starts with Vito Corleone, the aging don of the Corleone Mafia Family. His youngest son Michael, a decorated Marine war hero, does not want to get involved with Mafia.  Drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo approaches Mafia Families for protection of his drug trade. He offers Don Corleone money to protect him. Don does not like drugs so he turns down the offer. Sollozzo does not like the rejection so he had Don shot down by his hit men. The Don almost died. This forces Michael to lead a war against Sollozzo. When his father Vito died, he assumes the role of the godfather.

Michael is a truly enigmatic character.  His cunning intelligence commands respect among his clan members and members of the Mafia. The five traits that define Michael as a person are loyalty to family, cunning, firmness, strength and respect.

Loyalty to family is probably one of Michael’s strongest traits.  This is particularly evident in the scene when he learns that his father was almost killed by hit men.  Michael does not hesitate to eliminate the people he believes to have wronged his father. When Sollozzo requests a meeting with the Corleones with Captain McCluskey as his bodyguard, and Michael volunteers to kill both men during the meeting. This initially surprises his brother Sonny but Michael persuades them that killing Sollozzo and McCluskey is for the best: “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”  Michael maybe amiable but when it comes to family he is fiercely loyal and would do anything for them.

Cunning is another trait he exhibits. While he stood as the godfather of his nephew’s baptism, one by one his enemies are eliminated. Michael arranges for a series of murders to occur while he is standing as godfather for Connie and Carlo’s son. A very cunning move because Michael could not be pointed as the perpetrator of the crime since he has a perfect and very public alibi. Everybody sees him at the baptismal rites.  It would be hard to connect Michael to the deaths of his enemies.  Also, he eliminated his enemies first before they could carry out their plan to eliminate him.  With his enemies out of the way, Michael is free to do what he wants for the organization.

Firmness is another trait Michael demonstrates.  He is firm in his decisions.  He does not waver in his faith.  He knows who or where his loyalty belongs to. And he eliminates all hindrances to his goals.  His ability to decide the fate of the traitors surrounding him with shocking detachment is a perfect example of his firmness.  Once he had made up his mind, it is pretty made up and there is no way to go against it.  His decision to annihilate a relative, Tessio and his own brother-in-law, Carlo without having second thoughts shows how firm he is if need be.

Strength is an obvious trait of Michael. Without strength it would be impossible for him to assume a critical leadership position in a Mafia organization. More so, demand respect from its members.  His strength lies in his unquestionable intelligence and ability to get to the heart of the matter without delay.  He is not strong in the physical sense but in his capacity to use his mind. His strength borders on ruthlessness as evidenced by the fact that he kills Sollozo and Captain McCluskey in his own hands and orders his relative Tessio and brother-in-law Carlo to be eliminated.  Michael is capable of a whole gamut of emotions. He can be kind to those who are kind to him but ruthlessly violent to those who get in the way of what he considered good for the family or organization.  He is not averse to killing in order to get his way.  Michael is no soft jelly.   

Michael respects the family’s tradition, the principles his father stood for and the goals of the organization without sacrificing his beliefs. That is why he earns respect among the members because he respects them himself.  

Towards the end of the film, his wife Kay watches as Clemenza and new caporegime Rocco Lampone pay their respects to Michael, kissing his hand and addressing him as “Don Corleone” which signifies the fact that Michael has assumed the role of the Godfather

The Godfather secured its place in history when the American Film Institute ranked it as the third greatest film of all times and it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.  Byron Merritt of the Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula called the Godfather as the “…book that has changed the face of literature and our TV and movie worlds. It deserves our notice and will, with all likelihood, never go out of print. It is an American classic, like it or not.”

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