In the renaissance period English playwrights such as William Shakespeare were obsessed with a man named Niccolo Machiavelli. In his day, Machiavelli was seen as the reputed expert of the art of political corruption and the attainment of power through sinister means.
In fact he wrote a book titled “The Prince” that referenced history and offered instructions on how to calculate and deceive. Playwrights used Machiavelli as a sensational device in their tragedies. Audiences would be both entertained and taught as they witnessed a main central character like Macbeth take a journey down the path of evil.
One classic modern American novel that continues the legacy of writers like Shakespeare is Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel “The Godfather.” Like many works of modern literature, Puzo’s novel is more complex than a simple story of good guys and bad guys. Good and evil are blurred as this story of power, manipulation, revenge, love, and death unfolds.
The novel begins with three men who all have serious problems. A popular, decadent celebrity is in danger of losing his career and letting his life go downhill. A baker has a daughter who is in love with an Italian prisoner of war who is about to be sent back to Italy. An undertaker has been denied justice for an assault upon his daughter by two seemingly respectable young men.
Luckily they all have a good friend to call on for help: the Godfather.
Meanwhile, Michael Corleone has returned from military service and is coming to his sister’s wedding. His girlfriend is mystified by Michael’s exotic family and friends. Michael gradually and uncomfortably reveals that his father, Vito Corleone, is in fact a kingpin of one of the most powerful Mafia organizations in America. Michael wants nothing to do with his father or the family business. He just wants to get married and have a normal life and raise a normal family.
Things drastically change when Vito is severely wounded in an assassination attempt. Michael soon finds himself taking a path that acquaints him more deeply with his father’s ways.
This novel provides a complex web of colorful characters who all play a part in a labyrinthine plot. Mario Puzo also pays homage to modernism by using narrative ambiguity. The novel gradually shows the Mafia from the Mafia’s point of view while at the same time exposing it in a subtle fashion.
On the one hand, Vito Corleone is shown as a modern Robin Hood who helps and protects his friends. On the other hand, he employs threats, manipulation, and death to enforce his ideas of justice. He is as capable of love as he is of ruthlessness.
Michael seems to see his father in a new light when he goes to Vito’s homeland of Sicily. Despite Michael’s new-found respect, the violence-riddled Sicilian countryside is a damning portrait of what life may be like if Vito’s ways gain acceptance.
This novel offers an even more intimate and detailed perspective of the Mob than its popular film adaptions. If you're looking for a lurid, cautionary tale read “The Godfather.”