Fiction readers want to meet story people that they cannot meet in the ordinary world. They also want these people to possess complicated world views and unexpected moral codes. The cast members of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather are splendid examples of this. It’s one of the first novels that depicted mafia families in a sympathetic light and as anti-heroes, business men who aren’t above snuffing out the competition. Remember that one of the keys to creating anti-heroes is their unorthodox morality.
The pitch for the saga is: Don Corleone, an aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son Michael. Michael Corleone has a character arc we never saw coming when we first meet at his sister Connie’s wedding to Carlos–the event that begins the story. In the beginning he’s the beloved youngest son, war hero, and Ivy League graduate. His role in the family is that he remain untainted and uninvolved in their illegal enterprises. That all changes at the story’s midpoint when he kills a rival family head and a crooked police captain and then goes into hiding in Sicily. By the ending he’s the head of the family and is taking out his enemies including Carlos, his brother-in-law, because he betrayed his brother Sonny.
Two of the main themes of the story are respect and loyalty. However, Michael exacts revenge for disloyalty by murdering within the family, something that his father Vito wouldn’t have sanctioned. And the loyalty he earns as head of the family is mostly based on fear, not respect. The Corleone family members and their cronies have become iconic fictional figures over the years, as befitting the complexity of the story and its characters.