Violence of the Job: The Plight of the Immigrant in Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete

Anne M. Boyd


In his 1939 novel, Christ in Concrete, Pietro di Donato graphically illustrates working-class Italian immigrants’ struggle to survive. Through his depiction of the family, the society and the working conditions Italian-Americans faced, di Donato taps into two genres simultaneously: Proletarian as well as American immigrant literature (or Minor Literature). Emerging during the 1920s and 1930s, Proletarian literature portrays the struggles of working-class life, with a specific focus on revealing class inequalities. While di Donato does examine working-class issues, Christ in Concrete also classifies as American immigrant literature (sometimes referred to as Minor Literature), particularly because di Donato resists assimilation by assuming control over the dominant language through his use of dialect. In addition, his chief purpose is to accurately convey Italian-Americans’ experience in trying to realize their American Dream.1 Through the experiences of protagonists Geremio and his son, Paul, di Donato exposes a pervasive callousness and insensitivity inherent in early twentieth century American institutions. di Donato hones image and language to carefully reconstruct the oftentimes horrific, frequently violent job environments in which working-class Italian-Americans toiled.


That American immigrants’ experiences of work in the land of opportunity proved problematic is certainly an understatement and more than well documented. Muckraker exposés such as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle chronicle the deplorable conditions in which first generation American immigrants toiled to survive in their new environment. Narratives such as Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers (1925) and Michael Gold’s Jews Without Money (1930) provide first-hand, insider accounts of brutal living and working conditions. U.S. Department of Labor reports written between 1912-1913 by the New York Factory Investigating Commission decried the dangerous and potentially fatal working conditions American immigrants faced in the early part of the century. Yet, despite a growing awareness of these conditions, changes were slow to occur.


To better contextualize the American immigrant work experience as violent, it is important to examine Slavoj Žižek’s three-tiered classification of violence in his critical study Violence (2008) as well as historical references to Othering the immigrants, beginning with their entrance into the country. Using recent scholarship concerning American immigrant history and Žižek’s approach to violence as a springboard to examine the violent nature of work and the American immigrant experience, I will argue that Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete stylistically combines an authentic language with gruesome sensory images of work-related accidents to humanize his characters while addressing inhumane, violent societal practices. It is precisely through this sharp juxtaposition of intensely humanized, family-oriented characters and the labor establishment’s subhuman treatment of them that makes Christ in Concrete a watershed work in the study of American immigrant literature.


In his work Violence, Žižek argues that violence can be classified as either subjective violence, “violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent,” or as one of two kinds of objective violence, either symbolic, “violence embodied in language and its forms” or systemic violence, “the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems (1-2). For Žižek, objective systemic violence can include “the more subtle forms of coercion that sustain relations of domination and exploitation, including the threat of violence” (9). He contextualizes the development of objective violence through capitalism, drawing on Marx’s idea of the structural violence of capital. The structure of a capitalist society, Žižek notes, creates a social process whereby “the fate of whole strata of the population and sometimes of whole countries can be decided by the ‘solipsistic’ speculative dance of capital, which pursues its goal of profitability in blessed indifference to how its movement will affect social reality” (12). Because the ideology is so pervasive, it turns into a “Social-symbolic violence” that “at its purest appears as its opposite, as the spontaneity of the milieu in which we dwell, of the air we breathe” (36). Žižek locates “the ultimate cause of violence in the fear of the Neighbour” and shows how it is “founded in the violence that inheres to language itself, the very medium of overcoming direct violence” (206).


In the realm of work and the American immigrant in the early twentieth century, Žižek’s argument provides a useful context for examining the violence of job and its inherent dualistic nature. For American immigrants, survival hinged on obtaining work, yet the work available to them subjected these immigrants to a systemic violence widely accepted; as immigrant groups flooded into America, workers were abundant, replaceable, and often objectified as Other, almost subhuman, by the business owners and job bosses. Because of their status and numbers, American immigrants faced the dilemma of either working in hazardous conditions for substandard wages or starving. And, prevailing biases toward specific ethnic backgrounds created a tacit approval of labor practices.


When, in 1939, Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete debuted, the author provided one of the first insider’s perspectives on work and the Italian-American experience. Told predominantly from the perspective of one family’s members, di Donato’s novel portrays an almost primordial struggle for survival in a modern context: the immigrant’s ever-present, all-consuming necessity to obtain and keep work, and the inherent dangers posed by early twentieth century urban labor practices. A largely autobiographical story, Christ in Concrete quickly drew critical acclaim. di Donato received accolades for his unique style and diction as well as for his sensory description. In his August, 1939 review of the novel, Fred T. Marsh lauds di Donato’s efforts in “attempting to portray life and work as experienced by his own people” calling it “the story of the job and the home and the family circle, in good times and bad, from the inside” (B4). Yet Marsh’s review also bespeaks a sense of Italians as Other; he praises “these Italian people with their earthly awareness of all the good things of life,” notes “that peculiar Latin sense of dearness and innocent sensuality that warm spirit and flesh” as well as what he calls the “Italian gregariousness,” and classifies the character Annunziata as “ever the rich, warm (superstitious, maybe) Italian peasant mother” (B4). Similarly, Charles Poore’s September, 1939 review heralds di Donato’s masterful descriptions and his universal themes, but qualifies that “of course it is Italian to the core. It is by turns operatic, lyrical, ferocious and hilarious” (31). Despite the praise bestowed upon di Donato in these reviews, they also illustrate the ethno-specific stereotypes prevalent in 1930s America.


di Donato’s opening scene of the novel depicts the job site: a group of Italian men speaking in dialect and jibing one another good-naturedly as they perform intensely physical labor. Geremio, one of the central characters, has his eighth child on the way and amiably realizes he must sacrifice to support his family. Drawing on tropes of obligatory sacrifice from his Roman background, Geremio remarks, “who am I to complain when the good Christ Himself was crucified” (4). Equating himself with the sacrificial lamb, Geremio understands his situation. As an Italian-American and a member of the working class, he faces Žižek’s notion of systemic violence, one blithely accepted by societal attitudes of the time. This awareness surfaces as Geremio struggles with his employer, who disregards safety regulations: “I keep telling him that the underpinning should be doubled and the old material removed from the floors, but he keeps the inspector drunk” (4). When he repeats his concern to his employer, the response mirrors symbolic violence – a racial slur and an ultimatum: “Lissenyawopbastartd! If you don’t like it, you know what you can do.” The employer, Mr. Murdin, has previously observed “there are plenty of good barefoot men in the streets who’ll jump for a day’s pay” (9), reiterating the mindset of immigrant as dispensable. Murdin’s response exemplifies Žižek’s systemic violence: the labor system supports the ideology that the capital gain outweighs the safety of the worker.


In his article “Mantraps: Men at Work in Pietro di Donato's Christ in Concrete and Thomas Bell's Out of This Furnace,” Nicholas Coles comments on Geremio’s interaction with his employer, citing it as an example of the dualistic nature of work in immigrant life. He explains that for immigrants, “on the one hand, labor power […] is something to have and be proud of; on the other hand, when labor power is all they possess that the economy of the dominant culture values, they are relatively powerless over the forces controlling their lives” so that the “source of their male pride is also the source of their humiliation” (24). Coles views the scene as a “loss of manhood” because while “a ‘man’ would fight back, or at least talk back […] a ‘man’ must also provide for his family” (24) and cites di Donato’s descriptors of the cowed Geremio and his men as “machine-like” and “silent beasts” as evidence for this emasculation (25). Coles’s insight into the emasculation of Geremio and the problematic nature of work helps to illustrate systemic violence at work: it denotes the commonplace utter dehumanization of immigrant workers. The employer sees Geremio simply as a means to his own greedy end. Rather than spend extra time and money to ensure the protection of his workers, he shrewdly calculates that the plight of immigrants mandates that they must accept his conditions if they wish to survive, and their vast numbers afford him a steady supply of replacements.


This mentality can probably best be contextualized by examining a historical event that eventually brought about a change in labor standards and practices: The Triangle Waist Company Fire. Employing mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants, the Triangle Waist Company represented one of many such garment factories in the early 1900s. In his article “March 25, 1911 Triangle Fire,” Charles Phillips chronicles the history of labor issues preceding the fire. He notes that in 1909 “garment workers had […] protested the deplorable working conditions and dangerous practices of the industry’s sweatshops” referring to them as “firetraps” (16). The owners of Triangle, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, required their employees to “put in long hours for penurious wages, without breaks, in an airless factory located on the top three floors of a hazardous 10-story firetrap” (16). Phillips explains that the owners limited employees’ access to the exits because the owners “feared pilfering,” so they set up a system to “funnel one worker at a time toward the stairway or the two freight elevators before they could leave the building for the day. This allowed company officials to inspect each exiting employee and his or her belongings for stolen tools, fabric or shirtwaists” (16). A “narrow and flimsy fire escape” served as “the third stairway legally required by the city. Access to it was partially blocked by large worktables” (1). Phillips notes that this substitution was approved by “corrupt city officials in 1900” (16-18).


Because of these sanctioned conditions, when the fire broke out, evacuation proved impossible for workers on the ninth floor. The fire escape collapsed under the weight of exiting workers, another staircase was illegally locked, and the funneling system created jamming. Some workers died attempting to climb down elevator shafts, to no avail. Others died jumping from windows. While the executives managed to escape, 146 immigrant workers, mostly female, perished in the fire. Phillips reports that District Attorney Charles Seymour Whitman “got a grand jury to charge Blanck and Harris with negligent homicide for locking the doors to the back stairway” but “the ‘Shirtwaist Kings’ were acquitted, much to the outrage of progressives everywhere” (70). While labor practices and attitudes toward immigrants set the stage for allowing such a disaster to occur, the US Department of Labor’s website credits the fire for creating “shock waves that jolted the conscience of the city of New York. On April 5, 1911, over 100,000 people joined in a procession up Fifth Avenue to express their grief, as another 400,000 watched” (1).


It is important to note that the centrality of the location played a pivotal role in raising public consciousness. Since the factory was located in the crowded Lower East Side of Manhattan, a large portion of the population witnessed the devastation that resulted from the business owners’ neglect. Eyewitness reports focused on the horror of human suffering. A United Press reporter relates hearing “‘a new sound – a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk’” and described how “forty young girls, some of them flaming human torches crashed to the sidewalk and collapsed in broken heaps. None of these survived […] water pumped into the building by the firemen ran red in the gutter” (1). No longer a distant group of Others, the immigrant workers became humanized on a fundamental level.


In a similar attempt to reassert a human element into the Italian-American worker, di Donato employs detailed sensory imagery in his physical description of Geremio’s death on the construction site.  Here, di Donato’s diction does, as Coles points out, show that “whatever his ideal vision of himself, in the face of his work a man is finally a matter of so much blood, muscle and bone” (Coles 25), but more importantly, it serves to transform the worker back into a human being, a fellow member of the human race. di Donato achieves this re-humanization by carefully interspersing Geremio’s internal monologue, fraught with concerns for his family and elemental survival instincts, with a gruesome play-by-play of the physical destruction brought about by the substandard conditions of the job site.


Realizing he is about to be completely buried in concrete, genitals already impaled on a steel rod, Geremio attempts to bite through wood to get air, and “had bitten halfway through when his teeth snapped off to the gums [… but] the pressure of the concrete was such, and its effectiveness so thorough, that the wooden splinters, stumps of teeth, and blood never left the choking mouth” (15). Still struggling to bite through to air, Geremio “pushed the bone-bare jaw maniacally; it splintered, cracked, and a jagged fleshless edge cut through the form” but his “lungs would not expand and were crushing in tighter and tighter under the settling concrete” (16). Through his “blue foamed tongue” as “mad blood vomited forth,” Geremio fervently prays while his “Blood vessels burst like mashed flower stems” and “bones cracked mutely […] the fighting brain disintegrated and the memories of a baffled lifetime sought outlet” (16). The vivid description di Donato employs creates a similar effect as that of witnessing the Triangle fire. Detailing the destruction of genitals, teeth, jaw, tongue, lungs, bone and brain, di Donato taps into a humanness that defies Othering. His rendering of Geremio, stripping away what Žižek calls “the properly inhuman dimension of the Neighbour” which “resists universality” (Žižek 56).


In Pietro di Donato, the Master Builder, Matthew Diomede argues that one of the messages of Christ in Concrete is a “protest against the coldness of injustice and oppression, largely by those in power, such as those in institutions and bureaucracies. Though the Italian-Americans in the novel experience all of these inequities, the applicability of the novel’s universality is quite evident” (72). In an interview with Diomede, di Donato states that the main theme in Christ in Concrete is “the struggle of so-called economic survival. The great god Job” and discusses a feeling of guilt that accompanied the Italian-American immigrant experience. He believes that “you couldn’t attribute the maltreatment to anything but maybe something that you represented to them that was maleficent; you were never them. You were a dago, a wop, a greaseball, a guinea” (110), a statement that affirms Žižek’s discussion of the internalization of symbolic violence.


In his article “Disabled upon Arrival: The Rhetorical Construction of Disability and Race at Ellis Island,” Jay Dolmage explores the construction of these prejudicial stereotypes of specific immigrant groups. He details the history of the Immigration Restriction League, established in 1894, and explains the subsequent “influence on the political, intellectual, and business leadership of the country, and on the U.S. public,” asserting that the “immigrant was reframed as a menace, as a possible strain on resources, and as an undesirable undercurrent in the national gene pool” (38). Dolmage describes the process of scrutinizing arriving immigrants for physical and mental deformities, then chalk-marking them as they funneled through the immigration station, including in his research original notes, reports and memoirs from Ellis Island personnel – medical doctors, officers and high-ranking officials. Citing the memoirs of Victor Safford, an officer and doctor, Dolmage relates:

The inspection process, facilitated by the space of the Ellis Island Immigration station, looked like the choreographic and architectural brainchild of Jeremy Bentham and Henry Ford – a panopticon and an assembly line. Indeed, Safford used the automobile metaphor at great length in describing Ellis Island inspections, and justifying the use and the efficacy of the glancing appraisal employed by inspectors to recognize defective bodies. (32)

Further inspections followed for those marked with intentionally ambiguous phrases, such as “likely to become a public charge (LPC),” “poor physique,” and “feeble-minded” (32, 33). Dolmage credits the marking of the individual immigrant as the pathway for future biases. The Dillingham Immigration Commission’s “Dictionary of Races or Peoples” furthered the study of eugenics through its “subcategorization: moving beyond the five primary colors of ethnology [defined in Ripley’s 1899 The Races of Europe] to create hierarchies within ethnic groups” (41). Dolmage explains that this new “‘Dictionary’ was built out of an informal ‘list of races or people’ that Ellis Island had been keeping for years” and included head-measurements and perceptions of literacy (40, 41).


Concentrating on the eugenic studies conducted at Ellis Island, Dolmage attributes America’s ethnic biases to Henry Goddard’s invention of the term “moron” in 1910. Dolmage explains that the moron differed from the feeble-minded in that he or she was “capable of ‘passing’ as normal, being attractive normals, highly sexualized and thus an even greater menace to the gene pool,” and provides a description of this new classification from Margaret Sanger: a person who “may not merely lower the whole level of intelligence in a school or in a society, but may…increase and multiply until he dominates and gives the prevailing ‘color’ – culturally speaking – to an entire community” (47). Conversations surrounding polluted gene pools illustrate a desire to create an idealized American, one who could be formed by practices at Ellis Island.


Dolmage points out that this desire to control the face of the American came to fruition in the form of the Johnson-Reed Act, an immigration quota law passed in 1921 by Warren G. Harding, Dolmage explains that the 1890 census numbers were used to set quotas, “essentially rewinding thirty years of American immigration, in an attempt to reverse the melting of certain races into the American pot” (50). Based on a sense of privileged color and ethnicity, this act had particular ramifications for eastern and southern Europeans: “Italians reached their monthly quota the second day after it passed, and thousands more Italians were stranded at Ellis Island or in ships in New York harbor waiting for the next month’s allotment” (50). This notion of a hierarchy in immigrant groups then continued for those who did finally manage to enter the country, and their treatment in the labor force testifies to the objective systemic violence that Žižek describes.


Detailing the establishment’s detached response to Geremio’s death, di Donato reinforces the view of Italian-American worker as an objectified Other. When Geremio’s twelve-year old son Paul asks after his father’s body at the police station, “a live voice from the next room loudly answered: ‘What? – oh yeah – the wop is under the wrappin’ paper out in the courtyard!” (di Donato 25). The police officer’s response exemplifies Žižek’s theory that “the proximity (of the tortured subject) which causes sympathy and makes torture unacceptable is […] the proximity of the Neighbour […] the thing which, no matter how far away it is physically, is always by definition ‘too close’” (Žižek 45). Covered in paper and out of sight, Geremio is easily relegated back to the category of Other in the eyes of the institution.


Yet, di Donato persists in humanizing his characters through his use of language in their dialogue and thoughts. In his linguistic analysis of Christ in Concrete, Tamburri studies di Donato’s innovative use of language, arguing that di Donato selects his phrasing in three ways. Outlining examples of what he calls “careful idiomatic English,” the characters’ language, which he calls an English equivalent of Italian, and “the accented English they also speak” (4), Tamburri, affirming a phrase from Robert Viscusi, contends that the “dance between Italian and English” helps to create an episodic “American nightmare” (9). For Tamburri, di Donato’s use of language signals a break from the linguistics of the dominant culture who “can no longer rely on traditional coding systems” and must “find another means by which to represent the Italian immigrant identity” achieved by his “disfigurement of traditional sign systems and an eventual reconstruction of his own peculiar sign system” (12). In giving an authentic voice to his characters, di Donato constructs a human narrative. Thus, in Žižek’s terms, he works to tear away at an element of systemic violence, an aspect in which the “subject is thus not another human being with a rich inner life filled with personal stories which are self-narrated in order to acquire a meaningful experience of life, since such a person cannot ultimately be an enemy” (Žižek 46). di Donato’s dialogue, inclusive of religious references, pidgin-English descriptions of ‘the old country,’ and musically rhythmic cadences transform his characters from Žižek’s notion of depersonalized ‘subjects’ into human beings.


Of di Donato’s portrayal of Luigi’s construction accident, Tamburri remarks on the use of “fragmented prose” that “underscores the interdependence, however precarious it may be, between Job and man, where, unfortunately, Job always seems to prevail” (9). Luigi, like Geremio, ruminates over familial concerns, calculating how he can support his widowed sister’s children with his meager wages, when he slips in a puddle while heaving his pickaxe and the falling stone crushes his legs. For Tamburri, di Donato’s narration of “Both passages […] emulate the machine-like, non human conditions in which these men worked, or – one might say even further – had to work, as they did the labor reserved for immigrants” (9). And, once again, di Donato probes the senses to humanize the maimed worker, whose “leg from above the kneecap down had a weird dropsical appearance, humid with swelling and raging greenish yellowish purplish reddish splotches” (di Donato 85). Indeed, di Donato neatly chronicles the systemic violence of job in his treatment of Luigi’s amputated leg:

that which wore swaddling, that scampered in olive grove, that bore him on boat to America, that braced back arm and heart into pick and shovel, that footed Job, that would have pressed rude joy between sweet-sweet thighs, and that knelt him to God.

[…] was expressed down to the basement, hastily wrapped in old newspapers, soaked in kerosene, and dumped into the incinerator. (88)

The blunt, callous description di Donato employs in eulogizing Luigi’s discarded leg recalls the image of Geremio’s objectified body under the wrapping paper in the police courtyard. di Donato’s stark juxtaposition of the leg’s poignant narrative with the succinct report of the cold efficiency of diseased leg disposal reverberates with Dolmage’s description of the substandard immigrant rerouted for deportation. Completely depersonalized and seen as unfit for labor, neither has a place in this society.


As Michael Esposito rightly points out in “The Travail of Pietro di Donato,” di Donato “clarifies his message: involved in a war he was born into, opposed to an enemy he inherited, the Italian-American laborer struggles incessantly against an economic system which threatens his very existence. In other words, di Donato depicts the tragic consequences of the Italian immigrant’s entrance into the lethal world of industrial capitalism” (50-51). Esposito believes that “the aim of di Donato’s rhetorical techniques is to illuminate the conflicts the Italian immigrants encountered in accepting the American ethos, and the fusion of pain and redemption that results when the naïve immigrant falls into the murderous miasma of the abstract capitalistic system” (49). Esposito claims: “di Donato’s most successful literary technique in portraying the plight of America’s Italian immigrants is his passionate presentation of settings and events existing in this country” because it “enables the reader to experience the authenticity of his hero in the reality of the laborer’s life” (52). Moreover, di Donato inserts a universal human connection between reader and immigrant worker through image and spoken word, one which sharply contrasts with the view of the establishment.


During the Workman’s Compensation hearing after Geremio’s death, Paul immediately notices the conspiratorial nature of job boss and legal representatives: “They smiled and chatted with him. They knew each other. They respected each other” (124). Murdin continues Otherizing and dehumanizing the Italians, explaining, “I’ve always had the same difficulty with Eyetalian laborers” (125) and foisting his blatant disregard for safety issues onto Geremio. When Annunziata attempts to humanize her husband, beseeching the judge to understand “‘My man was buried alive –  my man was crucified – here are his children!’” (126), Murdin quickly deflects any humanizing element and lumps Geremio back into an Otherized group: “‘The Eyetalians are good workers, when you watch them and take care of them like a wet nurse. But when not personally supervised they get themselves into all kinds of trouble. They’re careless like children’” (126). di Donato’s depiction of this scene typifies the systemic violence of the established order; a mutual respect between members of the ruling class sets the stage for Otherizing Geremio. Annunziata’s appeal to have the judge see her husband as human is immediately undercut by Murdin, who quickly reduces the worker back to “one of them.”


di Donato’s description of Nazone’s death is perhaps the most gruesome scene in the book. First asserting Nazone’s humanness through his yearning for home and family and his desire to simply enjoy the day rather than working, di Donato here tangibly places the cause of death squarely on the establishment. “The single Job-brain of foremen Jones” pushes Paul and Nazone to work faster. Because Nazone does not move quickly enough, Jones runs at him and tries to grab his trowel away. In Jones’s fury, he trips, knocking Nazone off the scaffold to his death. Nazone never relinquishes his trowel. di Donato forces the reader to come face to face with Nazone’s destruction through his description:

A brilliant red wet overcalled pulp splotched over broken terra-cotta. Both his feet were snapped off and the flesh-shriven left leg-bone’s whittled point had thrust itself into a plank, with the protruding kneebone aiming at the sky. His hips and torso was a distorted sprung hulk. His overflung arms were splintered, and glued in his crushed right hand was his trowel. His head, split wholely through by a jagged terra-cotta fragment, was an exploded human fruit. His skill-top was rolled outward, with the scalp, underlayers, and cartilage leafing from it, and his face halved exactly down the centerline of nose, with the left nostril suspended alone at the lip-end, curled out and facing the right nostril. Only the right half of his face remained attached to his neck. His small right eye was filmed with transparent liquid and fixed at the sun. The crescent of his mouth and teeth was wide askew, and mingled over the sweat of his stubble were the marine contents of his blood and brains that spread as quivering livery vomit, glistening on the bluing flesh a tenuous rainbowed flora of infinite wavering fibrins. (209)

Carefully tracing each human aspect of the corpse, di Donato provides an eyewitness experience of the gruesome death, and, much like the Triangle Waist Company fire tragedy, gives goring detail to accepted systemic violence. No longer is Nazone a nameless Other; rather, his anatomy is laid bare and cannot be ignored. Verbalizing a keen awareness of his plight and status, Paul can no longer ignore the embedded violence, either. He sees an image of his dead father, who embraces him and “whispers quickly, I was cheated, my children also will be crushed, cheated […] not even the Death can free us, for we are […] Christ in concrete” (215). Paul realizes the inevitability of his situation: “men are driven. And they prefer death or injury to loss of work. Work and die. Today I did not die. I have been let to live today and must be thankful that tomorrow I may return to work – to die” (218).


Christ in Concrete provides a useful framework in which to examine the violent, totalizing nature of work for the immigrant. di Donato’s utilization of language works to humanize his characters, stripping away barriers that relegated the Italian-American laborer to Other. His authentic dialogue and his vivid descriptions of human anatomy render his characters human, despite the recurring destruction of the labor industry. Through his characters’ psychological and physical prostration before hostile and menacing job sites, di Donato’s work exposes the struggle for immigrant survival as predicated upon symbolic and systemic violence. His novel provided a pioneering and revolutionary voice for the immigrant in America during the early twentieth century, one that confronts readers with stark realities of the violent toll of work in the name of progress.


Works Cited


Coles, Nicholas. “Mantraps: Men at Work in Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete and Thomas Bell's Out of This Furnace.” MELUS 14 (1987): 23-32.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986. Print.

di Donato, Pietro. Christ in Concrete. 1939. New York: New American Library, 2004. Print.

Diomede, Matthew. Pietro DiDonato, the Master Builder. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1995. Print.

Dolmage, Jay. “Disabled upon Arrival: The Rhetorical Construction of Disability and Race at Ellis Island.” Cultural Critique 77 (2011): 24-69.

Esposito, Michael D. “The Travail of Pietro di Donato.” MELUS, 7.2 (1980): 47-60. Print.

MacKenzie, Gina Masucci. “Under-Writing: Forming an American Minority Literature.” Journal of Modern Literature 26.3/4 (2003): 1-11.

Marsh, Fred T. “A Fine and Unusual First Novel.” New York Times (20 Aug 1939): B4.

Phillips, Charles. “March 25, 1911 Triangle Fire.” American History 41.1 (2006): 16-70.

Poore, Charles. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES.” New York Times (15 Sept 1939): 31.

Tamburri, Anthony. “Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete: An Italian American Novel Not Set in Stone.” Literature Interpretation Theory 14 (2003): 3-16.

“U.S. Department of Labor – History – 7. The New York Factory Investigating Commission.” The U.S. Department of Labor Home Page. n.d. Web. 27 July 2011.

Žižek, Slavoj. Violence: Six Sideways Reflections. New York: Picador, 2008. Print.




Anne Boyd is currently pursuing a PhD in English at St. Louis University. She obtained her master’s degree from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. She is also an adjunct instructor at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri, and has taught high school English for 16 years.



1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (University of Minnesota, 1986) establishes and further examines these classifications. Gina Masucci MacKenzie’s article “Under-Writing: Forming an American Minority Literature” in the Journal of Modern Literature (2003) draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s classification in her discussion of Christ in Concrete.



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