April 25, 2020
Change is an inevitable trait of human life. Even the most conservative of all men have to admit it in one way or another, grudgingly or willingly. After all, the fact they grow is a true testimony that a change has occurred in their lives and hence have to compromise with the inevitable. However, the problem comes in when that change is controlled by factors in the outside that are prone to manipulation by man himself. The resultant change leaves more questions than answers. Were such and such a transformation necessary? Was it inevitable?
Are its repercussions worthy the risks? Whatever the question may be, the realty is always there to confront such rhetoric; that it has happened and it is in deed almost irreversible. This essay elaborates an example of such a transformation back in the 1920’s through a close examination Pietro Di Donato’s novel Christ in Concrete. Emphasis will be laid in how the novel’s protagonist, Paul, transforms from catholic serfdom to liberated proletariat view of the world around him. Themes of Catholicism, capitalism and Marxism and atheism will be explored in an attempt to highlight Paul’s transformation.
Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato is a showcase of the moral struggle that characterized the lives of Italian laborers in New York back in the early twentieth century. Thorough its protagonist Young Paul, the novel attempts to reconcile the ethical and religious guidance from the conservative Catholicism with the failure of the same religion in inspiring a concrete upgrading of the lives of its faithful. The church loses its grief through exploiting, humiliating and depriving its members and its initial glory is replaced by capitalism as allegorized by Job and Boss in the novel.
This masterpiece of a work commences with the reader’s encounter with Paul’s father, Geremio, and his mother Annunziata. From the onset, Geremio is depicted as a hard-working person who is loyal and faithful to the preservation of conservative practices and his appeal to God constantly to guide him almost in every situation. Being a worker employed by Job and Boss, Geremio is aware of his employers wrongs and abuses and the eminent dangers he and his fellow workers are prone to, the unnecessary changes his employers force them to take and their dire repercussions. Despite all these challenges, his faith is still unwavering (Di Donato 13).
Unfortunately, Geremio passes away on Good Friday courtesy of a collapsed building where he and his colleagues were working. Even in his death, Geremio continues to call upon his God to come to his rescue (p.18). However, as Donato records later in the novel, nothing would safe them, even death itself. He realizes that their lives were encompassed in Job’s world (capitalism) and there was no point of escape.
Amidst this premature death of the family’s sole breadwinner, Annunziata, the deceased’s wife still clings to her appeal to God for intervention. However as things stand out, there is no option but to have Paul replace his father as the family’s sole provider. Paul, being brought in a Christian setup and a stern, conservative Catholic one for that matter, he first visits father John in the hope of the church coming ton their rescue. Ironically, the father turns him down claiming that he is not interested in ‘charities’ and that there is a lot of bureaucracy involved before one can get any help if any (p. 59). In remedy, he suggests to Paul to sell a nice overcoat he was wearing. In such a scenario, the church (Catholicism) is portrayed as compassionless, outdated and weak hence having failed its faithful.
Fortunately, Paul secures a job as bricklayer. This is where he meets his godfather Nazone. The latter is very empathetic as witnessed in his plea to the other workers to accept him so as to live the dream of his father of providing for the family and thus living a dignified life. However, Nazone’s plea to the worker, as he emphasizes it, is not based on any religious ground but on social justice (P. 67). At this juncture, we meet a transformed Paul who has shed off his religious cocoon and has elements of atheism.
Paul is yet to learn more of the changing work condition in his adult life as a worker. The world around him is characterized by corruption and exploitation as the pay he gets is not proportionate to the work he does (p. 95). Due to his poor health resulting from heavy work, he becomes frail, weak, and hence forced to stop working. What ensures is horrible. A life of despair and hunger lies ahead. In this scene, capitalism and Catholicism come together in a coalition made to make the life of the immigrants as miserable as possible.
As result of all these misgivings, Paul as noted earlier begins to slowly drift to atheism. This change is greatly influenced by Louis Molov, a Jewish boy living in the same neighborhood. This boy has been a lot of misery compared to that of Paul, a condition that has led him to reject his faith and fatalism demanding revenge and correction on the spot as opposed to a religion that champions for the same in a later after life (p.140).
Paul loses the old grip on his conservative religion and no sooner as he does this than he secures a job to fend his family. In this environment of atheism, he finds comfort, concreteness and reality in life. His new passion for work however is short-lived as his godfather (Nazone) dies shortly after he (Paul) had got a job. This turn of event makes Paul to change his initial stand on the god Job as the only remedy to his misery in life. He contemplates leaving the job he has due to its dangers that claimed the life of his godfather. Paul realizes that not only has Catholicism, and atheism worked against him but now capitalism has failed him too.
The American Dream becomes a nightmare to the Italian immigrants like Paul (p.211).The failure of the church, atheism and capitalism opens a new page in the life of Paul. He thus determines to become the master of his life and destiny. Such an existential awakening provides him with a resolution to fail to go for the Sunday mass after the burial of Nazone. This marks a break from an age-old culture that was deeply rooted in rituals (p.227). This new disposition makes him even resent his mother when he sees her say her daily prayers.
Paul resolution is to have freedom of choosing from the many religions and ideologies at his disposal in the new America with less abstract boundaries if any. This suggests that to the author of this moving novel, freedom and salvation meant more than decolonization of a country and to extension of a man, but that of the mind leaving man with an ability to be his own God, being responsible of his actions by taking control of the world and above all, doing good to all (Benelli 98).
In conclusion, though Di Donato’s argument in the protagonist’s rejection of religion appears revolutionary, in this story it is caused by various transformations and change that characterize the life Paul and fellow workers and thus seem inevitable. His later resolution in life (Marxism stand in life) is influenced by failure of Catholicism, atheism and finally capitalism with each leading to the respectively.
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