Tag: Immigration

The Godfather, the Statue of Liberty, and Capitalism by Lena-Marie Lannutti

The Godfather films are an epic saga that is often credited as some of the best films ever made. Within its narrative is a cultural tie between the criminal underworld and the American Dream.  Francis Ford Coppola, the director, has remarked “it’s not a film about organized gangsters, but a family chronicle. A metaphor for capitalism in America”[1]. Besides these ideas of capitalism there are other concepts with gender roles as well.  The use of an icon like the Statute of Liberty in these films represent these two concepts. As cited in the third chapter, Bodnar cites how from the beginning, Americans associated through the Statute of Liberty, concepts like liberty with capitalism. “It is not the pursuit of happiness that allies with life and liberty as inalienable rights, but property that anchors and stabilizes American liberty.”[2]

The Godfather was one of the first films of New Hollywood cinema, and the first film since the early 1930s to feature criminals in main role instead of a secondary character[3]. In Italian-Americans in film, the author states the film, “…became the prototype and most important legitimator of the new wave of Italian-American sex-and-violence odysseys”[4] The film became a huge success and a cultural touchstone because of its complicated narrative and overall quality of production.

On the surface, the film presents typical gender roles “The older generation the traditional earth mothers, provide passive and stoic support for their men. The younger…. Modern nags become Italian-American spoiled brats”[5] Though there is evidence in the film of subversion of gender roles, visually and narratively traditional gender roles are reinforced. The Statute of Liberty in these scenes can be seen as a heightened extension of “earth mother” of the older generation as cited by Cortes. This connection has been linked to the statute itself in the past, “Standing upon the threshold of New York, which is the doorway of the Union, she will seem to offer the freedom of the New World to the thousands that shall flock to us from the Old…”[6] This line shows how people imprinted maternal qualities onto to the Statute because of her gender, and her connection to immigration.

In one scene in The Godfather some underlings of Don Vito assassinate a guy on the outskirts of New York, in the background the Statute of Liberty is in view in a sense “watching” everything happen. The scene alone juxtaposes the ideas of the American Dream the Statue with its representation of freedom, with these gangsters, who commit crimes in pursuit of the American Dream. Visually this scene resembles one of the last scenes in the film where Kay looks through the doorway (at the moment) unaware of her husband’s position as the head of a criminal organization.  Both scenes place women (in one case the Statute of Liberty) as passive observers to corruptions of the American Dream.

This final connects the narrative of The Godfather with the immigrant experience, and executes this by invoking the Statue of Liberty. Once again, the Statute is cast as an observer, this time a witness to the origins of the Godfather himself. The fictional character presents an immigrant narrative that is rooted in American history. “The individualistic liberties with which arriving immigrants invested the Statue of Liberty—as linked to preconceptions or early impressions of America—often emphasized hopes for new prosperity and wealth.”[7] This new prosperity is exactly what the Godfather achieved, the complication is that this was achieved through notorious means. It is this paradox that has made the narrative so engaging almost forty years after the films were released. The power of this legacy is consistently tied with the iconography and the mission of the American Dream, and this is best exemplified in the films’ use of the Statute of Liberty.



Fig 1-2 Scenes from The Godfather[8]






Figure 3 Scene from The Godfather Part II[9]


[1] Browne, Nick Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy Cambridge University Press, 2000 28

[2] Bodnar John The Changing Faces of the Statue of Liberty 2005 62

[3] Browne, Nick Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy Cambridge University Press, 2000 81

[4]  Cortes, Carlos Italian Americans in Film: From Immigrants to Icons Oxford University Press 1987, 117

[5]  Ibid., 117

[6] Bodnar, John The Changing Faces of the Statue of Liberty 2005 98

[7] Ibid., 102

[8] Coppola, Francis Ford The Godfather 1972 Paramount Pictures (images found on Netflix)

[9] Coppola, Francis Ford The Godfather Part II 1974 Paramount Pictures (images found on Netflix)

Dreaming of Success in America by Sarah Klein

While the “American Dream” remains a stereotyped ideal of success in the back KingRAKBradleyetalof all Americans’ minds, in reality it takes on a varied definition for each individual. I always imagine the American Dream consisting of immigrants, rags-to-riches and achieving success through hard work. In reality though, that is not how the American Dream has manifested itself in my family.

On my mom’s side, I am the first-born American, as her family is from Canada. My grandfather grew up on a farm and a single mother raised my grandmother. They live comfortably now and came from backgrounds where they had to work hard for what they earned.

My dad’s side is where it gets slightly more interesting. I am 3rd generation American. My great grandfather immigrated to America from Poland in the early 1900s. He came with a suitcase and little to no English speaking skills. By the time my grandmother was born in 1928, he owned a candy factory and was to become the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He went on to own the radio station WDAS where my grandfather worked as general manager. The station worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the advancement of civil rights.

My grandmother eventually owned a jewelry magazine; my aunt and uncle own a contracting company; my parents own a small community newspaper. With such great achievements in my personal history, it is ingrained in me that the American Dream is to be independent in business and life. Success is found through owning one’s own business and striving to do good for the community.

My version of the American Dream differs greatly from that of the Migrant Mother’s. As Florence Thompson was struggling during the Great Depression, the main goal was to keep her family fed and alive. When her children achieved enough success to buy her a house, she refused because she, “need[s] to have wheels” under her.

Thompson’s American Dream differs from the norm and mine as she actually refused to own a house. Ownership is a huge part of what makes up America and being American. From the beginning, explores came to America to obtain land and power. When pioneers ventured out West, they hoped to own land and obtain new wealth. In the 1950’s when suburbs were exploding, people dreamed of owning homes, cars and innovative appliances to make their lives better. The American Dream of ownership can take any shape or form, but remains constant throughout history.

Thompson’s refusal of the typical American Dream represents an entire segment of Americans who cannot find success through traditional means. Thompson worked hard her entire life and barely had anything to show for it at the end, besides of course the survival of her family. The problem that many impoverished Americans face is the endless cycle of never receiving the chance to break free from poverty, a problem that the archetypical American Dream simply cannot solve.

(Photograph from family records. My grandfather Bob Klein is second from the right, to the right of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. along with other important members of the community. Early 1960s.)