‘And of Clay We Are Created’ is a poignant short story written by the renowned Chilean author, Isabel Allende (born 1942), and it appears in her 1989 collection, The Stories of Eva Luna. The narrative revolves around a catastrophic mountain avalanche that claims thousands of lives in its wake. Amidst the devastation, the story follows the endeavors of a newscaster who becomes determined to rescue a young girl, only thirteen years old, trapped in the suffocating embrace of mud.
Plot Summary: And of Clay We Are Created, Isabel Allende
The story begins with a volcanic eruption, followed by a destructive mountain avalanche that wreaks havoc on a village, leaving countless individuals buried beneath layers of mud. One of the victims, Azucena, finds herself clinging desperately to life in a mudpit, drawing the attention of television news reporters.
The narrator, who is the partner of a newscaster named Rolf Carlé, witnesses her loved one's assignment to report on the devastating avalanche. As Carlé delivers the live news from the scene, he is typically known for his emotional detachment. However, upon seeing Azucena trapped in the quagmire, he feels an innate urge to help her. Together with others, they attempt to pull her out of the mud using ropes and a life buoy, only to discover that her lower body is ensnared by the corpses of her own brothers and sisters, still clinging to her legs.
Despite their efforts, Azucena remains trapped. The arrival of a water-draining pump is delayed until the following day, leaving Carlé to spend the night by Azucena's side, fulfilling her request for companionship. Throughout the night, they converse, and Carlé learns about her life - a thirteen-year-old girl who has never ventured beyond her village. Despite the dire circumstances, Carlé remains optimistic, entertaining her with stories, trying to keep her spirits up.
Struggles and Grief
The narrator, who has often accompanied Carlé to the TV studios, watches him closely as he converses with the trapped girl throughout the night. By morning, they are both visibly exhausted from the lack of sleep. As Carlé's weariness sets in, memories of his own traumatic past resurface. He reflects on his childhood in a concentration camp during the Second World War, marked by the cruelty of his father and the struggles of his mentally challenged sister, Katharina. Carlé realizes that his career as a reporter has been, unconsciously, an attempt to repress these painful memories.
As time goes on, Carlé's emotional barriers start to crumble, and he relates deeply to Azucena's predicament. He sees a reflection of himself in her – both trapped and burdened by fear. The arrival of the President to the scene adds to the intensity of emotions. Watching the televised encounter, the narrator notices a significant change in Carlé, who surrenders to grief.
Azucena confides in Carlé, sharing her yearning for love from a boy, and in response, Carlé expresses profound affection for her, praying for her suffering to end swiftly. Although the pump is finally on its way to rescue her, it arrives too late. Tragically, Azucena passes away, her eyes locked with Carlé's until her last breath.
The story concludes with the narrator directly addressing Carlé, revealing that he frequently revisits the footage of Azucena, searching for any missed opportunity to save her. However, amidst this search for redemption, he is also, in some way, seeking to understand himself better through this poignant experience of loss and connection.
'And of Clay We Are Created' is a profoundly moving narrative that delves into themes of death, human bonds, grief, and self-reflection. Through the emotional journey of Rolf Carlé and the tragic fate of Azucena, Isabel Allende brings to light the complexities of human compassion and the profound impact of shared experiences in the face of tragedy.
Critical Analysis: And of Clay We Are Created, Isabel Allende
Context and Collection Conclusion
'And of Clay We Are Created' serves as the concluding story in the collection The Stories of Eva Luna, which draws inspiration from the Arabian Nights anthology. In this collection, Eva Luna plays the role of Scheherazade, the storytelling figure, and the final story closes the book on a somber note following the tragic death of Azucena in the mudslide, and the profound changes it brings to Rolf Carlé.
Human Connection Amid Tragedy
Despite its melancholic tone, the story also highlights a positive aspect - the genuine and profound human connection formed between Azucena and Rolf Carlé. This unexpected bond evolves between a teenage girl and an adult male newscaster, who initially only sought to report on her plight. The tragedy prompts Carlé to break free from his emotional detachment and wholeheartedly try to help her.
Azucena's impact on Carlé goes beyond her physical rescue attempts. She enables him to confront his suppressed emotions and memories, leading to a significant transformation in his outlook on life. Through their connection, he finds the capacity to grieve not only for Azucena but also for the painful past he had long buried, making it a profoundly personal and universal experience.
An Epiphany and Symbolism
Carlé's emotional response to Azucena's situation can be seen as an epiphany - a moment of profound realization often found in modern short stories. Allende portrays this change sincerely and deeply, convincing readers of its authenticity. Despite observing this change from the outside, the narrator, Eva, Rolf's lover, can perceive the shift in him through the television screen, emphasizing the significance of the television medium in the story.
Allende uses symbolism associated with television and news cameras to depict how modern society helplessly witnesses tragedy unfold, separated by screens, unable to intervene directly. The story also points to bureaucratic barriers hindering timely aid, which parallels the swamp of corruption and oppression that engulfs not only the country but humanity as a whole.
The 'Flower in the Mud'
Azucena's name, which means 'lily,' is significant in symbolizing her beauty, fragility, and delicacy. She becomes the 'flower in the mud,' reflecting her vulnerability amidst the overwhelming forces of the mudslide and the corruption plaguing society. The title, 'And of Clay We Are Created,' reminds readers of the human origins from the earth itself, highlighting the question of how to rise above the hardships and challenges of life.
'And of Clay We Are Created' offers a powerful and thought-provoking conclusion to The Stories of Eva Luna. Through the tragic circumstances of Azucena's death and the transformative experience of Rolf Carlé, Isabel Allende explores themes of human connection, grief, and the struggle to rise above adversity. The story leaves readers contemplating the resilience of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming challenges and the potential for empathy and solidarity even in the darkest times.