The Godfather

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

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The Godfather is a male power fantasy, sick and twisted. The pleasure of the book comes from watching the plots and counterplots reveal themselves, from watching Vito, Sonny, and Michael Corleone outwit their opponents and ultimately get revenge. That’s why the puppet-strings image from this cover make it so appropriate.

In the world of this book, women don’t have any agency, they’re pawns in the game, and sometimes even trophies. Puzo relates the sexism of the macho mafia culture in a way that shows he’s 100% aware that the culture is sexist. He makes it impossible for readers to ignore the sexism. Maybe this is good; it illuminates the sexism for some readers who might not have seen it at all. Some big examples are the rhetoric of ownership in marriage in Sicily, Johnny Fontane’s entitled womanizing, domestic violence and the family’s attitude toward it. But at the same time, the novel doesn’t seem to show any hope for the women caught in this culture. They have no way to escape or overthrow it. Their only recourse is to pray for their husbands’ souls. I don’t think this is because Mario Puzo doesn’t think women are people. Although I think it is true that he’s less interested in his female characters than his male ones, perhaps because his subject is power and the women have less of it. He gives us insight into the women’s minds and thoughts, especially Connie Corleone and Kay Adams. Their stories are presented sympathetically, but they never threaten or even question the system in any significant way.

Personally, I think I might have been most weirded out by Lucy Mancini’s vaginal reconstruction surgery. Maybe I wasn’t understanding the medical issue here, but it seemed totally superfluous and cosmetic, not to mention focused on her partner’s pleasure rather than her health. In fact, the problem seemed to be that she had orgasms too easily. I couldn’t figure out what could possibly be wrong with her vagina. The entire incident seemed to have nothing to do with the main plot of the story, and I had no idea what its point was.

I wasn’t very impressed with the writing style, which seemed almost too straightforward, not literary at all, and at times repetitious.

Here’s an interesting article on The Godfather, which compares it to Little Women from a feminist perspective. The basic gist is that in both books, people are trapped by overly narrow gender roles. The father in The Godfather tries to help his sons escape the macho mafia culture, but they are killed by it, corrupted by it, or sucked back into it after a brief reprieve. Meanwhile, the mother in Little Women tries to help her daughters to become more fulfilled in their marriages and careers than she was, and she mostly succeeds. The comparison shows that men can be even more trapped by overly narrow masculine gender roles than women are by patriarchal marriage. It’s especially dangerous for men when masculine identity is tied so closely to violence as in the mafia culture.

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