Christ in Concrete: Form, Content, and Religious Aching for Opportunity

What a book to talk about on Valentine’s Day! Pietro Di Donato’s story “pulls at the heart strings.” How can you not sympathize with the pain of this family? Annunziata’s experience as a mother of 8 is terrifying, as there is no possible way to support her family other than letting her son of 12 years old start working as a bricklayer.

Anyway, I focused mostly on how form and content become one with Donato’s sentence structure. I noticed right away that the narrative voice switched between the speakers, and that confused me, at first, but then I came to understand how important it is for us to know what’s happening in these characters’ heads. There are sentences that often mimic the sounds or feelings of the workload, for example, “…Patsy number one check Patsy number two check the Lean three check Julio four steel bellowed back at hammer donkey engines coughed purple Ashes-ass Pietro fifteen chisel point intoned stone thin steel whirred and wailed through wood…” (26) and it continues. This stylistic writing choice is useful because it makes the reader feel weighed down by the endlessness of these words, just as the workers feel weighed down by the endlessness of their labor. It’s quite poetic. The repetition of this technique often made me feel tired, my eyes struggling to continue through the mess of lists untouched by punctuation. At a few points, Pietro designed a page into a sentence, creating the same effect. One point in Geremio’s work day mirrors the effect of the authorial writing technique perfectly, “His eyes followed the stone-cementy pudding, and to his ears there was no other sound than its flow,” (18). The heavy and violent word choices to depict what is going on to these impoverished building workers creates an atmosphere on the page. I found myself reading out loud- just to hear the sound of these words meshing together. 

On another note, the biblical allusions throughout the story so far are pretty evident, although I found one to be particularly interesting and poignant to the overall theme of the work. I’m not sure why certain words are capitalized in the novel at some points, and then the same words at other times uncapitalized, for instance, Job, Tenement, and Fortune, but I understand it to be a capitalization of abstractions or nouns that the characters are moved, shifted, and affected by, in which they have no control over. This contributes to the relationship between Paul as a young worker and the Book of Job in the Old Testament. It addresses human suffering and God’s justice (or injustice) in relation to the moral and immoral choices that people make. The way I see it, Paul is struggling to be seen as respectable as his father. At only 12, Paul is determined to maintain a better lifestyle with conviction, but, at the same time, he’s seeing very little reward for his efforts. After finally being let on the job, he only gets paid $5.00 a week. It’s difficult to read through the details of how sick he’s getting. In the Book of Job, Job is tested by God because satan was sure that once he was stripped of all his wealth, he would no longer be loyal to God. In God’s perspective, only the best are tested for their unshakeable virtues. Perhaps this is the case for Paul in Christ in Concrete, as “Job” is referenced over and over. 

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One thought on “Christ in Concrete: Form, Content, and Religious Aching for Opportunity

  1. I’m glad you noted the formal innovation of the novel. One of the central issues in the literature of labor is how to represent the processes of work, which are often repetitive and, well, boring, with little development or room for subjective processing. Di Donato uses narrative form to capture this very process, showing how work wrings out the individual consciousness through its velocity and intensity.

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