Pietro DiDonato’s Christ in Concrete is a powerful narrative of the struggles and culture of New York’s Italian immigrant laborers in the early twentieth century. Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale, in their historical work La Storia, state that "Never before or since has the aggravation of the Italian immigrant been more bluntly expressed by a novelist" (368). A central component of this "aggravation", both for DiDonato as an author and for his protagonist Paul, is the struggle to reconcile traditional religious beliefs and customs with the failure of that very same faith to provide any tangible improvement in the immigrants’ lives. Through Paul’s experience, we observe the Catholic institutions lose influence and effectiveness as Capitalist ones, manifest in Job, take their place. While doing this, DiDonato also illustrates essential aspects of Italian (specifically southern) Catholicism and the pressures placed upon it by the American environment.
The novel opens by introducing Paul’s father Geremio, his mother Annunziata, and Job. Geremio is a construction crew supervisor who struggles to improve his family’s condition, and even though he has been making progress, he still wonders how much more will be exacted from him. A religiously faithful man, he asks God for guidance: "Is it not possible to breathe God’s air without fear dominating the pall of unemployment? And the terror of production for Boss, Boss, and Job? To rebel is to lose all of the very little. To be obedient is to choke. O dear Lord, guide my path" (13). Geremio articulates the conflict he feels between Boss and Job, which rules his earthly life, and the struggle of his spirit. The pressures have not crushed his faith,...
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...ave either seen, survived, or know of. Yet, when they need help, there is nowhere else to turn. Paul doesn’t arrive at Job, doesn’t decide to dedicate his life to it, as his first choice. He only does so after other institutions, namely the Church, fail to provide assistance. As a result, Job naturally becomes the central all-powerful force in the lives of the laborers. It is to Job they go every day, and to Job that they dedicate themselves. As the Church failed to help them materially, it also often fails to help them spiritually beyond encouraging them to accept their plight as fate. Once arrived at this state, it is a natural consequence that Paul loses his faith God and the Catholic institution as they are supplanted by the Capitalist institution of Job. Though he resents and wishes to break free from Job, he sees no alternative, it is all that is left to him.
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