Critics agree that in The Godfather, the protagonist, Michael Corleone (Mikey) changes from a person with moral principles and a legitimate role in society to a cold-blooded mobster. In the beginning of the movie, Mikey shows his reluctance to involve himself in the Mafia when he tells his girlfriend, Kaye, about his father’s (Vito Corleone) business methods of coercion and says he will never be like his family. However, as Mikey’s involvement with the family business increases his violent tendencies become more apparent as he volunteers to murder a rival thug and a corrupt police officer. In the final scene, Mikey kills his brother-in-law, and when confronted by Kaye, he looks her in the eyes and claims no role in the murder. At this point, he completely transforms from a military hero and legitimate citizen, to a Mafia don capable of lies and murder. While Mikey’s transformation is quite obvious, the reason for this change in moral behavior is a more complex issue. The change in ethical behavior is a result of Mikey’s decision to become more involved with his family, consequently putting him in an environment that promotes immoral behavior.
Michael Corleone’s problem is an internal conflict between loyalty to family and moral principle. After an assassination attempt on Mikey's father, Mikey decides to return to the family and assume leadership, even though he disapproves of Mafia business practices. The strength of family ties, ingrained in Mikey as a youth, influenced his choice.
Decisions in choosing between right and wrong should not be confined to just a matter of the individual, but a response influenced by the family. Psychologists feel that the rearing of a child during early years plays a particularly important role in influencing behavior throughout a child's life. So, certain choices simply will not be made due to values established at an early age, since cognitive moral development restricts "free will" to some degree. Obviously, growing up in a Mafia family would put Mikey in an environment where he experiences a tainted view of right and wrong.
Also, in the family situation, pressures from the group (the family) often influence the individual's behavior making the individual's decisions more difficult. Therefore, someone not taught independence will have trouble standing up against the family. For example, Mikey holds a notion of responsibility to his family during the crisis of his father's endangered health, and the members of the family business even expect him to react, taking part in his father's protection. When Mikey presents his plan to eliminate those who plot against Vito, everyone in the room takes pleasure in Mikey's participation, all except his older brother Sonnie. A concern for his brother's safety explains Sonnie's initial reluctance to follow Mikey's plan, but this soon fades. In accordance to the pressures of the group, the Corleones teach loyalty to family, and they continually use the phrase...