Job Will Not Save You
“Job” is central to Pietro di Donato’s heart wrenching novel Christ In Concrete. Job is the protagonist of the story, the religion of every character. Job is the sole chance at survival and also the bane of existence for the Italian bricklayers and their families in 1920s New York City. Controlling the lives of everyone in the novel, Job dictates each decision that they make. By leaving off the article and by capitalizing the first letter of “Job,” Pietro di Donato elevates it, almost making it something mythical. In this way Di Donato attributes qualities to Job of something that is mysterious and powerful. Neither the reader nor the characters, in spite of its presence in their quotidian life, truly know Job. Personified throughout the book, Job is painted as an extremely complex “character;” and several scenarios present it as capricious, uncaring, and ruthless. In spite of the workers’ uncertainty about and subsequent fear of Job, they must go to work in order to earn a living and support their families. Paul, whose father Geremio died in a tragic accident while working as a bricklayer, finds himself left with the responsibility of supporting his family by taking up the job his father had. Over the course of the novel, Paul must face many difficult obstacles, which causes him to view Job in very conflicting ways.
At the beginning of the novel Paul strongly identifies with his father’s values, including his faith in and reliance on Job. In the eyes of Geremio, Job is something to worship, despite being a dangerous and difficult undertaking. First of all, by working on Job the workers develop a very strong sense of camaraderie with one another. Not only is this a good way for them to keep up with other Italian immigrants, but it is also a resource in times of need of people to turn to who are most likely going through a very similar experience. For example, the first day that Paul goes looking for work as a bricklayer, his father’s former coworkers give him advice, offer to help, and share their food with him (64-68). It is also safe to say that besides being at home with their wives and children, the only joy in life for these men is the sense of pride they get from Job. At one point, Paul goes looking for work as a bricklayer and with “[t]he trowel on his hip he felt a shield, a sword, and as he walked uptown to where the jobs lay he felt bigger” (63). This quotation shows how even the possibility of doing Job and bringing home money for his family is exhilarating for a boy like Paul, giving him somewhat of a big head. After all, what is more satisfying to them than meticulously and tirelessly working to the point of death and then receiving a paycheck for the work to take home and present to their wives? This sense of accomplishment keeps the bricklayers coming back—they live for the moments in which Job is worth it. With so little to be happy about in their lives, moments such as receiving their paychecks completely turn life back in the right direction and provide a temporary haven for the workers from their dreary and stressful lives. Paul was perhaps even more awed by Job than ever when he witnessed, “The men […] smiling like foolish girls, and pleased. There were no more enemies, all were friends and Job a wonderful thing” (85). In reinforcing the typical immigrant worker values that Geremio had in part already ingrained in his son, the other bricklayers (particularly Paul’s biggest mentors, Nazone and Luigi) further elevate the importance of duty, tradition, and most importantly as a source of survival and salvation. Nazone first gets on his soapbox to declare that, “It is the right of a bricklayer’s family to live. It is the right of a bricklayer’s son to follow the art of his father” (67). The idea that Nazone presents here is that Job is not simply a rite of passage for Paul as the oldest son of a bricklayer, but instead is actually his duty and will be his fate. Moreover, it is a widely accepted fact that there are no alternatives to Job for that group of poverty-stricken immigrants to which Paul and the characters in this novel belong. Addressing his fellow workers, Nazone further elevates Job by stating, “Why shouldn’t the son of a bricklayer learn the art and bring food to his family? Is the school going to satisfy their needs? The Police? The Army? The Navy? The Church? Or the City Hall, stinking with thieves” (66-67)? Nazone’s criticism accurately portrays the difficult life of Italian immigrants in big cities. At this time there was really no other option for help, so one had to solve his own problems in order to survive. For most men, that meant jobs such as the bricklaying presented in this novel. Possibily the most convincing argument that shows the good in Job is a moving scene in which Paul finally gets to work on Job and lays brick for the first time. It is the moment in which the reader probably feels the most connected to Paul and cheers him on silently. The mood is electric: “…it was brickwork, real brickwork such as would harden into solid unity and resist elements… such as in building of Job that would pay men to sustain life and home. He photographed it in his soul, and his eyes embraced it…. He had built that” (71). Paul feels such accomplishment as he as probably never before known, and pride that he, on his own, would begin to provide for his family. However, there is a risk involved with elevating Job to such a degree.
On the other hand, the reader is probably much more likely to consider Job as a very negative presence in the life of the bricklayers. Obviously, it is not at all difficult to see that Job oppresses the workers and often causes the deaths of men who work on Job. There is a bitter moment of realization for every man that Job has eaten away his life and there is no way to escape it: “… worn oppression and the despair of realizing that his life had been left on brick piles. And always, there had been hunger and her bastard, the fear of hunger” (8). The bricklayers have no choice—they must work as bricklayers, regardless of low pay, bad conditions, long hours, and the dangerous work area. Job is a powerful force that literally and figuratively suffocates the bricklayers. It dictates the lives of the men and can change everything in one second, such as the accident that kills many workers and thrusts Paul in the working world at such a young age. Even if Paul wants nothing more than to quit his job, he has to go back the next day and do it all again, for Job controls his life. All of the workers have an enormous dedication invested in Job, as evidenced by a conversation between Paul and Luigi. Luigi has badly injured his legs in one of the common accidents that are an occupational hazard for the bricklayers, and when Paul asks him, “Did it hurt very, very badly?” Luigi responds, “It hurt my heart more” (47). This intense emotional attachment and reliance on Job is detrimental to the workers and beings to take over their lives.
Over the course of the novel, both Paul and the reader discover more about the true, complex nature of Job. Unfortunately, Paul’s revelations about Job lead him to forsake Job, and in doing so forsake the values of his father. Paul’s dream at the end of the novel is definitely meant to be seen as a clear example of the refusal to accept his father’s values, which Paul himself had previously held and cherished (223-26). Furthermore, this dream represents not only a renunciation of his father’s utter dependency on Job, but also a rejection of religion. That is to say that Geremio and Job represent in a fashion Christ, as a savior, to Paul, who worships all of these characters. Paul describes seeing a “man dressed like a priest” and Saints who “wear overalls and look like paesanos” who are working in niches on a bricklaying job. The boss harasses and abuses Paul’s working father, who can be seen as what Paul might become if he continues living and working in the same fashion (224). Paul no longer identifies with his father and has renounced Job as salvation.