Pietro Di Donato

Christ In Concrete

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Christ In Concrete Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 49-page guide for “Christ In Concrete” by Pietro Di Donato includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The American Dreamin Poverty and The Toil of Job: The Corporation Versus Labor.

Plot Summary

Christ in Concrete is a novel based on the real life of author Pietro di Donato, which he expanded from a short story that he placed in the magazine Esquire in 1937. Like the main character, Paul, di Donato was the son of an Italian immigrant bricklayer who died on the Christian holiday of Good Friday while working on the job. Also like Paul, di Donato became a child bricklayer, although he would go on to be a writer.

In the book, protagonist Paul becomes the financial provider for his seven younger siblings and mother, Annunziata, after his father, Geremio, dies in a work accident. Di Donato personifies the work of bricklayers as “Job,” which serves as a living force that terrorizes every waking moment of its workers’ lives through backbreaking labor, low pay, and dangerous working conditions. Even though Paul is bright and could excel in school, he is forced into Job when his family faces the prospect of starvation. Through Paul, we get a sense of the camaraderie that forms among the Italian immigrants who work on these construction sites as well as the tensions between laborer and boss as well as worker and corporation. 

Faith is central to the largely Catholic Italian immigrant community. Following the model of his devout parents, Paul starts off as a firm believer in Christ. However, due to the failure of religion to bring back his father or ease his family’s struggles, Paul loses faith in God by the end of the novel. He also starts off excited by the ability to provide for his family by laying bricks, even though the early stages are filled with setbacks like a long illness and injuries from the backbreaking work. Once the brick laying work becomes arduous, Paul gets a new opportunity to work on a skyscraper, which thrills him. But that excitement, too, fades away upon witnessing the brutal death of his godfather, Vincenzo. Ultimately, although Job may quiet the fear of hunger, it takes more than it gives, be it the lives of Paul’s father and godfather or his uncle Luigi’s leg and sense of manhood. And it strips Paul of a core part of himself: his belief in God.

In this moving semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, di Donato shines a light on forgotten parts of American history: the lives of poor Italian immigrants on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s; terrible working conditions in America’s boom years pre-Great Depression; the conflict between faith and reason and labor and business; and lastly; the men who built some of the greatest buildings in the bustling metropolis of New York. In doing so, di Donato preserves their important legacy in his book for generations to come.

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Chapter 1