Stereotypes in A Bronx Tale
A Bronx Tale (1993) does more than perpetuate the familiar stereotype of the Italian American man as mobster, which has become the primary pop culture expression of the Italian American identity; it depicts the familiar but less idealized counterpart of the blue collar working man. In doing so, it sets up a conflict in actions and values of the two stereotypes. Set in the Bronx in the 1960’s, the plot revolves around three characters: Sonny, the local mob boss; Lorenzo, the city bus driver; and Lorenzo’s son, Calogero. He is the pawn caught between the two men, who must ultimately choose whose path to follow.
Sonny is the ruler of his local fiefdom. He is a familiar organized crime character. At first glance, he appears to fit the stereotype exactly (but does he?). His appearance and behavior are recognizable to anyone who has viewed films about the mob. In this neighborhood, he is the epitome of success. Sonny conforms to the mobster image. “Ruthless and violent, these men are nonetheless often seen to maintain their own personal brand of honor and decency” (history.com). He is ostentatious with his expensive car, tailored suits, and gold jewelry. Although he has enough money to live in a more affluent part of the city, he chooses to stay where can keep a watchful eye over its plebian inhabitants and protect the neighborhood from intruding competitors.His illegal activities range from basement crap games to murder. His proclivity towards violence is evident from the murder he commits to his attack on a motorcycle gang. His survival depends on his paranoia.
He does display some characteristics atypical of the mobster stereotype. He is not a family man; unmarried, he has no close family ties. His only tribe is his crew of sycophants. Also unlike most portrayals of the mobster, Sonny doesn’t display any animus towards the minority groups that border his turf.
Lorenzo Anello, Calogero’s father, represents another stereotype: the honest blue collar man who keeps society’s norms and centers his life around his family. He works hard to provide for them. He is a man with integrity. He is not materialistic, so money doesn’t tempt him to accept any illegal offers. His typical Italian geniality makes him popular among his regular passengers. His tribe is his nuclear family.
The main conflict of the story revolves around the tension Calogero experiences between the actions and values of these two stereotypical characters. Having no children of his own, Sonny takes Calogero under his wing, calling him “his boy.” And the newly christened ‘C’ likes the attention and superficial glamour just steps away from his building; the attraction is too strong for him to resist. He rejects his father’s stereotypical values of working man as hero, drawn instead to the corrupt, materialistic world of the criminal enterprise.
Sonny becomes C’s putative “godfather,” sheltering him from the more violent and reckless activities of the gang. Sonny prohibits him from having a gun, and he openly extricates C from his “jerkoff” neighborhood friends because he knows that they’re headed for disaster.
In a rare glimpse into the mind of a mob boss, he reveals that he has self-awareness. He divulges his feelings about his life choice to C. He neither apologizes nor glamorizes his position. He explains his years in prison and his distrust of everyone. He validates Lorenzo’s words that the mobster prefers people fear rather than love him. More importantly he clearly warns C not to follow his example. Rather, he advises C to stay in school, insisting that his is not a life for C. He wants C to distance himself rather than get caught up with the gang.
Yet, C doesn’t fully comprehend the extent of Sonny’s paranoia until the gang boss accuses him of trying to kill him. C’s stunned reaction is epiphany. He is devastated by the truth that Sonny’s paranoia has no bounds. Finally, Lorenzo’s words have the ring of truth. Unfortunately, C never has the opportunity to thank Sonny for saving his life because Sonny succumbs to the stereotypical violence of the mobster’ life.
Only at the last scene at the funeral home, does C appear to choose his father’s stereotypical working man values. He acknowledges that no one else really cared about Sonny. He understands the superficiality of Sonny’s relationship with his crew. He extricates himself from the gang: no one is left. Sonny is dead, and so are C’s friends. C has been entangled between these two stereotypes, but as he departs the funeral home with his father, he appears to accept his values. Has he learned anything from his experiences? Will he adhere to the stereotype of the working-class man?
Laura Impelluso Maniglia, lifelong educator and owner of Handle Education, LLC is the grand-daughter of Southern Italian & Sicilian immigrants who valued family above all else. She was born and raised in city housing (NYCHA) in the South Bronx, an ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood. Her father was a firefighter in the FDNY, her mother a home-maker. The principles instilled in her included devotion to family and a strong work ethic. She internalized these values and was fortunate enough to receive scholarships for her full time undergraduate (BA, summa cum laude)) and graduate (MA) degrees, while also working part-time.