What's the significance of Paul's "conversion" to atheism on his father's grave in "Christ in Concrete"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The conversion of Paul from Catholicism to atheism comes as a product of both the cruel way in which his father died and the kind of life he lived and experienced during his life. Let us remember that this short story shows the reality of life for Italian construction workers, who worked incredibly long and hard hours and put their lives in danger every single day. What sustains them, however, is their Catholic faith and the way that they hope their children will enjoy a better life. Paul's response to the way in which his father dies and the kind of crucifixion which he suffers is to therefore reject the Catholic faith of his parents and tradition, as he sees it as a negative constraining force that keeps his people suppressed and experiencing a terrible life.

The way in which the death of his father represents Paul's coming of age therefore is linked with Paul's rejection of Catholicism. Paul shuns both his position of being exploited as a migrant form of cheap labour and of being a Catholic, because of the church's failure to support his family. This rejection means that Paul is able to embrace a kind of freedom from the hold of superstition and exploitation on his life.


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