Christ in Concrete Summary
Christ in Concrete, by Pietro di Donato, tells the story of a boy named Paul who struggles to support his mother after his father dies in a construction accident. Paul is the oldest son in a family of Italian immigrants, hardworking people and devout Catholics who find it difficult to maintain their faith in a country fueled by Capitalist ideals. When Paul’s father, Geremio, dies in a horrific accident at work, Paul takes his father’s place and assumes the role of family supporter. Paul works tirelessly in unsafe and oppressive conditions, but his life is a constant struggle, and his family is starving. Angry and depressed, Paul seeks help and guidance from the church. When the priest, Father John, tells him that the church can do nothing to help him, Paul begins to see the hypocrisy of the Catholic religion and begins to question his faith.
Paul plods on, nevertheless, despite his mental anguish over the death of his father and the growing realization that he will never be able to support for his family as he feels that he should. He works in a couple of jobs that are physically demanding and mentally destructive. Then the Great Depression hits, and things get worse. His friends and family members take what work they can get, and many are injured or die on their jobs. As Paul processes what is happening around him, he loses his faith in God and abandons his religion. Once Paul understands that the Church, as an institution, fails to provide for his physical and spiritual needs, capitalism replaces Catholicism as the driving force in his life.
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, a traditional attitude that they have brought with them to the United States. They have a firm faith that God will protect them and their families.
Geremio, their spokesperson and crew leader, has earned their respect; they follow his orders willingly. The Job (sometimes referred to in the text with a capital “J”), is an antagonist in the narrative, the force against which the workers struggle. Murdin, the company boss (the name suggests his role as a murderer) is hard-driving and...
(The entire section is 985 words.)