Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 282
This novel depicts the timeless struggle of immigrants in a new land—specifically, Italian immigrants in America.
The main character, Paul, is a son of Geremio and Annunziata, who are Italian Catholic immigrants.
Geremio is a construction worker and has a demanding job in Manhattan. The supervisor of his job site is named Boss. Geremio struggles to find fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment at his job, as he wants more for his family. One day, Geremio is trapped under a part of the building that collapses. He cannot escape, as concrete pours over him. He is immortalized in concrete and perishes.
As the oldest boy of the family, Paul is then responsible for taking care of his mother and eight siblings. Paul's uncle, Luigi, steps in at one point to help the family but gets injured and must pull back. Luigi later marries a woman named Cola.
Annunziata does not want Paul to bear the burden of a grown man. Members of the family all struggle with their faith as they seem to face one struggle after another in a new land. Annunziata tries the hardest to remain true to her ethnic and religious roots.
Paul seeks guidance and wisdom from the Catholic church, specifically Father John, but while Father John is somewhat empathetic, he is not helpful. Ultimately, Paul becomes disillusioned with God as he faces hardships and heartache, especially after the death of his mentor and friend, Nazone.
Readers are also introduced to Paul's tenement neighbors—specifically the Molovs, who are Russian Jews, and the Olsens. Paul is attracted to Gloria Olsen, his neighbors' daughter, and becomes friends with Louis Molov, who has also experienced death in his family.