The purpose of this paper is to research the ways in which social and cultural forces have shaped and informed the actions of Tony Soprano, the Mafia boss on the show The Sopranos. The ways in which Tony Soprano is enmeshed in the broader world and is directly a product of a wide array of social factors is brought to the fore and discussed. Additionally, the setting of the Sopranos is also discussed with a view to the economic, social, political and educational structure that it entails, and how it influences the actions of the characters.
Hit man, Italian-American mob boss, drug vendor, dedicated father and family man, Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini), is the main player and protagonist in the hot HBO TV show, the Sopranos, is enmeshed in the dark side of life and is a direct product of a broad range of social factors. The family and social dynamics of his existence, and at the societal difficulties that come with it: corruption, gambling, infidelity, drugs, and crime, have far-reaching consequences which have shaped and informed his actions. Tony’s cultural roots as an Italian have a fundamental effect on the way he brings up his family – forever the solid provider, and his social life and manners are also a reflection of Italian culture (Simon, 2002).
As Tony is the unquestioned boss of the Di Meo crime organization as well as Soprano household patriarch, he has a 24/7 tough of war battling to keep the concurrent responsibilities, loyalties and demands of the two diverse families; his Mafia family and his wife and two children family (HBO1, n.d.).
The cultural force of Italian family values plays a large role in Tony’s life as family values are the bedrock of Italian society, and an Italian family, just as in the case of the Sopranos, is an extremely close social unit. Italians are known to hold very strong bonds with their relatives, grown up children and parents, and this is the case with Tony. His relationship with his mother, Livia Soprano was very fraught and he holds a deep seated hatred for her, yet his cultural upbringing and Italians’ respect for elderly parents, does not allow him to cut her out of his life (Syracuse University, n.d. & Artifice, n.d.). Sitting down to enjoy a formal meal with the family and close friends and having wonderful Italian food are a major part of Italian family life, and this was very much the case at Tony’s house (Syracuse University, n.d.). Tony and his often suffering wife, Carmella, have a labored relationship on account of his mafia status and his Mafia style social life which revolves around him spending time at a strip joint and being unfaithful to her due to his perpetual infidelity (HBO2, n.d.). Tony is extremely set in his ways, and would never consider changing his colorful social life that befits his mob boss status. Some of Tony’s actions are affected by his rounds of clinical depression. He receives regular treatment from Dr. Jennifer Melfi (played by Lorraine Bracco), a psychiatrist who despite their conflicts, is magnetized towards his power and dangerousness HBO2 (n.d.). The fact that a Mafia boss such as Tony, regularly visits a psychiatrist, displays his vulnerability, and the complexity of his personality.
However, after seven years pass, and after her colleagues persuade her that sociopaths such as Tony cannot be cured by psychiatrists, and that she may actually be helping him to be one, Dr. Melfi ends their professional relationship, leaving Tony feeling vulnerable about all the social forces that he is up against. Looking at Tony’s cultural and social history that shaped him into what he has become, it is clear that he had two major role models: his father, who was a favorite captain for the mob; and his uncle, who was also held a high position within the Mafia. During the course of his life, Tony was forced to internalize his environment and make a decision as to whether he should have nothing further to do with the Mafia, and begin a new way of life away from crime, or to remain with them and build up mental defense strategies to vindicate what society views as unacceptable behavior. Tony complains about the end the traditional practices of Mafia business to Dr. Melfi. His perspective as being part of the Mafia, entailed having respect for mob culture and acting within the rules. He is a complex character that is torn between his two worlds, and whenever he falls into a disturbed dream state his conscious comes alive: he is torn between the thought of the things he has carried out, or is about to carry out, and the different life he would have had if he had done things correctly earlier in his life. As the years progressed however, Tony began to regard himself as above the law, and began generating more exceptions, such as being implicit in the murder of Christopher Moltisanti, his nephew, something that goes against Italian culture and societal norms. It is clear that Tony’s background mob family members, and environment triggered his behavior and chosen path in life (Distributed Republic, 2007).
With regard to the settings of the Sopranos, Tony’s beautiful expansive home and in the state of New Jersey, represents the way in which he goes after power and money. This affluent suburb of New Jersey and its economic, social, political and educational structure has a profound influence on the actions of the characters of the show (Simon, 2002). The latter relates to Tony, his wife, and his children, who all relish their luxury lifestyles and have the best of the best when it comes to their lifestyles, their top-of-the-range cars, other luxuries, and the latest high tech items. They all portray themselves as being in a high socio-economic bracket, and are not affected by the country’s politics or economic climate, and the children appear to attend excellent schools. Most of the show’s New Jersey exterior scenes are true to life as they were filmed on location; and most of the interior ones, whilst made in a New York City recording studio, still depict the economic, social, political, and educational structure that the show entails. (Entertainment Weekly, 2007). One of the mob’s popular hangouts is the the pork store, which is regular social meeting place for Italians. Because of this, the characters feel very much at home, and do not have any inhibitions as would in other venues. The show has many scenes which are filmed at the Vesuvio restaurant. The sequences shot there often depict Tony and his family or Tony and some of his mob crew. As the restaurant is owned by Tony’s friend, he and his guests are treated with great reverence, which makes them all feel that they are shown the proper respect that they deserve for either being members of Tony’s family, or members of the Mafia.
(The Locations, 2001).
- Artifice (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://the-artifice.com/5-events-in-the-sopranos-that-make-tony/
- Distributed Republic (2007). Retrieved from: http://www.distributedrepublic.net/archives/2007/06/05/tony-soprano-sociopath/
- Entertainment Weekly (2007). Retrieved from: http://www.ew.com/article/2007/04/06/set-sopranos-finale HBO1 (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://web.archive.org/web/20090215003443/http://www.hbo.com/sopranos/cast/character/tony_soprano.shtml
- Simon. D., R. (2002). Tony Soprano’s America: The Criminal Side Of The American. US:Basic Books
- Syracuse University (n.d.). Retrieved from:
- The Locations (2001). Retrieved from: http://www.nj.com/sopranos/stories/030401locations.html