To the reader, the scene in which Annunziata and Paul visit The Cripple is in some ways the gloomiest of the book, an effect that owes much to how Pietro DiDonato has chosen to tell his story. Namely, unlike any of the characters, the reader is well aware of how Geremio died, having been told in deep and painfully explicit detail at the very start of the novel. Paul, perhaps spurred on by the overwhelming physical toll that bricklaying takes on him, is compelled to know more about these details himself, and the answer that he gets is about as far away from the truth as possible: “No, sonny,” the Cripple tells him, “he shakes his head and says there wasn’t a stitch of pain, and that he went to his Lord God with a clean soul and a smile.” The bleakness of the scene is mulitplied by the tearful comfort and relief that Paul and his mother take in hearing these words.
Because we have to assume that diDonato knows what he is doing by putting this scene after the explicit description, we have to consider that there is a purpose for the words he chooses. In the case of the former, he chooses the phrase “a clean soul and a smile,” words that are very fluffy but also physically descriptive. It’s no coincidence that the details of Geremio’s death come in absolute contrast to these adjectives. In no way was his death “clean” given that he suffocated beneath a pile of rubble. And the use of “smile” instantly recalls the brutal image of Geremio with splinters in his mouth, breaking his teeth on concrete just so that he could prevent himself from suffocating and draw a few last breaths.
The encounter with the Cripple echoes the final paragraph of Part I, where Geremio’s “hysterical mind sang cringingly and breathlessly” to his Lord and God as he died, and reaffirms the hopelessness and desperation that comes with religious devotion and spirituality. The total disparity between the Cripple’s “mediation” and the facts cast deep doubt over not only her capabilities but on the spiritual realm in general and whether or not the afterlife actually exists. What’s more, the comparable poverty of the Cripple and her family suggest that they are not enhanced in anyway by her supposed powers, and that it is a means of making a buck in the same way that bricklaying is for Paul. It is the false hope against the backdrop of tenement life that compounds the brutality of work and survival, and really sets this particular scene apart in terms of its extremely morose nature.