Bonasera: “I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend. Not an Italian. She went to the movies with him. She stayed out late. I didn’t protest. Two months ago, he took her for a drive with another boyfriend. They made her drink whiskey. And then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her like an animal. . . . Then I said to my wife for justice we must go to Don Corleone.”
The Godfather trilogy opens with these words. They are said by the undertaker Bonasera, who requests that Don Corleone render “justice” on two American boys who beat his daughter and got off with only a suspended sentence. Bonasera’s words implicitly link the boys’ crime with the failure of the legitimate American justice system. As such, his statement becomes a strong condemnation of the society to which he has moved. American justice having failed him, Bonasera requests Sicilian “justice,” by which he means murder. In his request, we see the first example of what will become a common occurrence throughout the trilogy: the use of euphemism to describe the mafiosi’s violent, criminal acts. Vito responds by saying, “We are not murderers.” But of course killers is exactly what they are, and killing, or at least maiming, will be the chosen response. The way the Mafia uses language to cover up, even excuse, their criminal actions is another important theme introduced in this opening.
Lastly, Bonasera’s words make clear that we are dealing with an immigrant community. The characters may be rich and powerful, but they still face the same struggles that all immigrants confront every day. Assimilation is not easy, and immigrants, when unaware of local customs, can be taken advantage of, as is Bonasera’s daughter. The tragedy that befalls her makes Michael’s genuine, loving relationship with the blue-blooded American Kay Adams seem all the more remarkable. At the opening of the movie, Michael presents himself as a totally assimilated Italian-American. Later in the trilogy, when he becomes Godfather, he grows obsessed with the idea of making the family “legitimate,” which, in a sense, is a euphemism for “assimilated.” Michael wants to de-Sicilianize the family, to take the crime out of it, so that the Corleones will be as American as anyone else.