In how far does the novel "Christ in Concrete" reflect the particular Italian immigrant experience?
What was characteristic for the Italian immigration or the Italian immigrant group and experience in the United States and how far is it reflected in DiDonato`s novel?
Catholicism played a big part in the lives of early twentieth century Italian-American immigrants and DiDonato's novel powerfully depicts this religious dimension. The novel thematizes the contrast between the Old World ways of the parents' generation and the assimilationist tendencies of the children by showing their contrasting attitudes towards religion. While his mother is deeply religious, Paul progressively loses his Catholic faith. This loss starts when his father dies on Good Friday, a death that has a Christ-like resonance for the day on which it occurs. American capitalism has other gods and tellingly the narrative contrasts the Lord of Catholic believers with the allegorical characters of Job and Boss, the divinities and oppressors of workers.
Christ in Concrete shows how for Italian immigrants Catholicism could easily mix with superstition and paganism (see the episode of "the Cripple", a woman who claims to be able to enter into contact with the world of the dead and the spirits). For Italian peasants, official religion and dogma also have an obscure and dubiously mystical quality.
Although Christ in Concrete has often been described as the novel that introduced the Italian American experience onto the American literary scene, I personally find Stud Terkel's remarks in his introduction to the Signet Edition interesting and challenging. Terkel does recognize the novel as based on the Italian American experience. Yet, he also finds in it elements common to other immigrant groups. "Pietro di Donato's story," writes Terkel,"is the story of so many immigrant peoples whose dreams and realities were in conflict".
You can read the introduction following this link: