Themes and Meanings
The Godfather is a trenchant satire of American society that condemns the follies of its governments and businesses as well as the wickedness of its drift away from traditional values. Amid a society where prejudices harm ethnic minority groups, divorces wreck families, and generations split asunder, Don Vito Corleone heads a solid family whose members hold one another dear and welcome a German-born orphan as one of their own. The Don is personally involved in the lives of all of his people. This way of life, so vividly depicted by Puzo, contrasts starkly with the decay of family life in modern America, where the ideal of individual success has eroded values that make families strong: mutual trust and protection, personal familiarity and affection, loyalty, a strong moral code, and subordination to paternal authority.
These values also strengthen the Don’s criminal enterprise. The central symbol of the novel is the family, conceived as unifying all of life’s endeavors, business and personal. Vito and Michael know, as Hagen does not, that there can be no real division between personal and business life. Thus the Corleone crime family satirizes corporate America: employees who despise their paymasters, bosses who terminate livelihoods of workers after twenty years’ service, and impersonal managers who underpay workers and overcharge consumers so owners can gamble on shares of stock. The Don’s illegal means of gaining power through violence,...
(The entire section is 406 words.)