Pietro di Donato’s unique handling of language, although more evident in the longer work, is nevertheless effectively developed in this short story. Critic Fred L. Gardaphe, in his introduction to the 1993 reprint of Christ in Concrete, notes that Di Donato’s unique achievement is his ability to express the characters’ thoughts and dialogue in both the immigrant’s broken English and the speech rhythms of Italian translated into English.
In his view, Di Donato masterfully combines the elements of the two languages to represent the thought processes of the characters. The rough poetry of the language is often cited as a strength of both the story and the novel.
The omniscient narrator plays a prominent role, commenting on the often unrecognized contribution of these immigrants to the infrastructure of the United States, an insight that the characters themselves are incapable of reaching. However, the raw emotional power of the narrative comes through the dialogue among the characters and their interior monologues expressing their unspoken thoughts. Throughout the text descriptions of ethnic food and the loving warmth of the family, headed by the father as wage-earner and the earth-mother as the heart of the home, suggest a primitive innocence that contrasts with the knowing complicity of the society that exploits them.
The evolution of the short story into the novel reveals Di Donato’s development as a writer. In addition to making name changes that allow the author to develop the characters in the longer work, he has deleted several passages of authorial commentary from the short story, letting the consciousness of his characters in their final agonies emphasize the horror of their deaths. The novel is the coming-of-age story of Geremio’s son Paul. Having taken a stand against his exploitation and rejected the Catholic Church that has failed to help his family, he ultimately achieves freedom from exploitation and superstition. Nevertheless, the conclusion is an emotional scene at the hour of Annunziata’s death in which Paul pays tribute to the warmth and strength of the Italian heritage that will be a gift to the life of the nation.