First published as a short story, “Christ in Concrete” was the basis for the first two chapters of the novel by the same name published in 1939. The story is autobiographical, based on the death of the author’s father in a construction accident in 1923. Paul, the oldest son of Geremio and Annunziata who is mentioned only briefly in the short story, becomes the protagonist in the novel. Paul represents Di Donato himself, who at the age of twelve, as the oldest son, was forced to go to work as a bricklayer to support the family after his father died.
The story covers the final two days in Geremio’s life. The plot centers on the thoughts and actions of the Italian American construction workers in a realistic account of the hardships and dangers of their lives. Their dialogue, internal monologues, and the narrator-author’s exposition show love of family as the driving force in the lives of these immigrant Italian peasants. They came to the United States early in the twentieth century to escape poverty and forced military service in the old country. Sustained by their strong Catholic faith, they are underpaid and exhausted but filled with hope for a future that will spare their children the hardships of their own lives.
The men exchange jokes about their wives, often coarse in their direct references to sex, but always with a rough affection and warmth. These workers are illiterate and hardworking, their lives centering on their families, the comforts of food and sex, and their religious faith. Physically strong but intellectually limited, they know that they are being exploited but cannot imagine any other kind of life. In the old country, they were accustomed to being dominated by church and government authorities,...
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