Body as a Commodity in Christ in Concrete

In Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete, the emphasis on the relationship between labor and body is signifies the idea that body is a type of possession that can be bought, sold, and exploited especially in the economic context. The commodification of the body especially the hands, is highlighted after Geremio’s death as it becomes the source of survival and income. Paul says, “Mother, my life is now your shield! Nothing, nothing in the world can now harm you. These limbs shall hurl back the world and raise you to glory… And Paul clutched his fist.” (43) Furthermore, Luigi also says “Silence, as Luigi flexed his thick fingers… ‘But fear nothing, for you are not alone. These hands shall be devoted to the needs of my sister and hers.” (44) Paul and Luigi are transferring their ownership of their body to Annunziata so that they can profit like Geremio’s hands had given the family food, warmth, and joy. Instead of solely being the owner of their body, they have established a partnership with Annunziata, in which both parties are entitled to the bodies as owners.

This is also reflective of capitalism since the body is a site of production, offering itself to produce labor for the profit of private owners. When Paul looks for work at his dad’s workplace, he sees Old Santos as “he shoveled sand from a great heap into the mortar box with timed wasteless grace, lifted ninety-four pound cement bags easily and spread their contents upon the sand…” (69) This particular passage demonstrates the objectification of the body since it focuses so much on the hand and its importance in being a bricklayer. Furthermore, Paul puts a value of on his hands when he is able to “push the force of his father’s spirit into the handle of the trowel into the mortar-slice-twist-scoop-up over guide mason line.” (73) He is praised by the other bricklayers, provoking Paul to believe that he is indeed capable of creating profitable goods that are on par with other workers. Thus, Paul begins to lay bricks, which ultimately leads him to sell his time, labor, and body to Mister Rinaldi.

Because Paul sells his body to his employer, Mr. Rinaldi as the owner, has the power to determine Paul’s worth. Paul’s worth is determined not by the work that he accomplishes but by what the owner think is appropriate. As a result, not only is Paul exploited, but his body is exploited as well. He says, “But mama- I cannot help it- I cannot stop, mama- everything hurts me- Oh I worked so- so hard I thought I was going to die- and they gave me only five dollars- Oh they know I am worth more.” (95) His worth is determined not by the product that he has produced- the owner’s property-, but by his body as a property of the owner. Because Paul is only twelve years old who weighs seventy five pounds, his value in comparison to the other laborers is much lower. This harsh reality takes a toll on Paul physically, emotionally, and psychologically, enslaving him not only to Mr. Rinaldi but also to capitalism.

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One thought on “Body as a Commodity in Christ in Concrete

  1. Yes! The contrast between communal modes of labor–wherein individuals share their bodies, so to speak, with others–and capitalist modes of labor–wherein individuals’ bodies/labor power is quantified and split (unevenly) between worker/owner–is central to the novel.

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