Latin America in the 1980s
Although the volcanic eruption on which ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created’’ is based occurred in Colombia in 1985, Allende does not specify the date and location in which the story is set. Like the rest of the collection The Stories of Eva Luna, the story is understood to take place somewhere in Latin America, sometime during the 1980s. The 1980s were a turbulent time for Latin America, the region encompassing approximately twenty nations in South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean where Romance languages are spoken.
Politically, Latin America was a region of great instability during this period. Many countries, including Argentina, Haiti, Panama, El Salvador, Grenada, and Guatemala, were under the control of repressive military dictators. In Colombia, armed guerillas challenged the government, which they accused of corruption, and were killed by the hundreds. Chile, Allende’s native country, was ruled from 1973 until 1989 by General Augusto Pinochet, chief executive of the country and head of the armed forces. Pinochet held onto his power by torturing, killing, or banishing thousands of Chileans who opposed him. Books and magazines that were considered unfavorable to the government were banned or burned, and their authors were punished.
The effects of this political turmoil have been significant for writers and for Latin-American literature. Allende learned about the...
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Point of View and Narration
Point of view is handled in an unusual way in ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created.’’ The narrator tells most of the story in the first person, and yet most readers would say that she operates only on the edges of the action—she is an observer more than she is an actor. While it is common for a narrator to relate events she has witnessed, rather than participated in, it is unusual to have a narrator who reports what she has seen on television. On the one hand, the narrator shares with millions of others the experience of watching Azucena and Rolf Carlé on television; on the other hand, she has intimate knowledge of Carlé and access to unedited transmissions, and these set her apart from the other viewers. The television screen brings her closer to the reporter and the girl, and yet she is separated from them by hundreds of miles.
The final section of the story is told by the same narrator, but she speaks directly to Carlé, using the second person point of view. Again, the point of view is unusual. The narrator is telling Carlé things about himself that he surely already knows, recounting for him his recent actions and inactions, and there is no indication that he responds. Like the first-person point of view in the rest of the story, the point of view here creates an atmosphere that is at once intimate and distant. The narrator is physically close to Carlé now, but more distant emotionally than when she was...
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Compare and Contrast
1985: The eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in central Colombia kills more than 22,000 people and destroys more than 5,000 buildings. A large area is covered in mud and ash, making rescue of survivors nearly impossible.
1990s: Colombia continues to be subject to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, but none causes devastation equal to the Nevado del Ruiz eruption.
1980s: There is a large gap between the poorest citizens of many Latin-American countries and the wealthiest citizens. Many of the wealthiest citizens are educated Europeans like Rolf Carlé, while the poorest tend to be of native or African descent.
1990s: As in the United States, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen in Latin America. Colombia and other countries experience significant economic growth, but the pattern of income distribution means that poverty actually increases.
1980s: The average per capita income in Colombia is nearly $1000, among the highest of the Latin-American countries.
1990s: The average per capita income in Colombia is $1,650. The per capita income in the United States is over $22,000.
1980s: In Colombia, over ninety percent of the citizens are Roman Catholic, a religion established there by European conquerors in the 1500s. Nearly ninety percent of Chileans are Roman Catholic. The numbers are similar for other Latin-American countries....
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Topics for Further Study
Find newspaper stories about the 1985 volcanic eruption of Colombia’s Nevado Ruiz Mountain, the September 1999 earthquake in Taiwan, or another large-scale natural disaster. Look especially for stories about individual children trapped and rescued. Do you think the reporters writing these stories respect their subjects or exploit them? How emotionally involved do these reporters allow themselves to become?
What can cause mudslides of the magnitude described in this story? Research the geography and the geology to find an explanation. What parts of the United States and Canada are subject to this danger?
Most students know about the concentration camps run by the Germans during World War II, but fewer know much about Russian camps. Investigate these Russian camps. Who was held in them? What were conditions like? What happened to Russia during and after the war?
Investigate the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings about humans being made from clay and returning to the clay after death—teachings that Azucena would have been exposed to. Find out about other cultures—there are many—that also have stories about the first human being created from clay.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Stories of Eva Luna (1991) is Allende’s first collection of short fiction. Like Scheherazade, Eva Luna presents twenty-three interwoven stories to her lover Rolf Carlé, the male protagonist of ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created.’’
The House of the Spirits (1985) is Allende’s first novel. Three generations of a Latin-American family find strength through political and emotional struggle.
Leaf Storm and Other Stories (1972) is by Gabriel García Márquez. In seven interwoven stories, wonderful and impossible things happen to the citizens of the Latin-American village of Macondo. García Márquez, a master of ‘‘magical realism,’’ is the author with whom Allende is most frequently compared.
A Hammock Beneath the Mangoes: Stories from Latin America (1992), edited by Thomas Colchie, is a collection of stories by twenty-six Latin- American authors, organized by country. Includes work by Allende, García Márquez, and Jorge Luis Borges, and also by newer and less well-known writers.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Allende, Isabel, Prologue to The Stories of Eva Luna, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, Bantam, 1991, p. 4.
Bader, Eleanor J., Review of The Stories of Eva Luna, in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, Vol. 6, No. 3, Spring, 1991, p. 60.
Bernikow, Louise, Review of The Stories of Eva Luna, in Cosmopolitan, Vol. 210, No. 1, January 1991, p. 22.
Cryer, Dan, ‘‘Unlucky in Love in Latin America,’’ in Newsday, January 21, 1991, p. 46.
Gautier, Marie-Lise Gazarian, Interviews with Latin American Writers, Dalkey Archive Press, 1989, p. 8.
Harris, Daniel, Review of The Stories of Eva Luna, in Boston Review, Vol. 16, No. 2, April, 1991, pp. 28–29.
Hart, Patricia, ‘‘Boom Times–II,’’ in Nation, Vol. 252, No. 9, March 11, 1991, p. 315.
Iftekharuddin, Farhat, ‘‘Writing to Exorcise the Demons’’ [Interview with Allende], in Speaking of the Short Story, edited by Farhat Iftekharuddin, Mary Rohrberger, and Maurice Lee, University Press of Mississippi, 1997, pp. 1–26; reprinted in Conversations with Isabel Allende, edited by John Rodden, University of Texas Press, 1999, pp. 353–54.
Ruta, Suzanne, ‘‘Lovers and Storytellers,’’ in Women’s Review of Books, Vol. 8, No. 9, June, 1991, p. 10.
Snell, Marilyn Berlin, ‘‘The Shaman and the...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Allende, Isabel. Conversations with Isabel Allende. Edited by John Rodden. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.
Carvalho, Susan. “The Craft of Emotion in Isabel Allende’s Paula.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 27 (Summer, 2003): 223-238.
Correas de Zapata, Celia. Isabel Allende: Life and Spirits. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press, 2002.
Cox, Karen Castellucci. Isabel Allende: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.
Frame, Scott Macdonald. “The Literal and the Literary: A Note on the Historical References in Isabel Allende’s La casa de los espíritus.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 27 (Summer, 2003): 279-89.
Gough, Elizabeth. “Vision and Division: Voyeurism in the Works of Isabel Allende.” Journal of Modern Literature 27 (Summer, 2004): 93-120.
Lindsay, Claire. Locating Latin American Women Writers: Cristina Peri Rossi, Rosario Ferré, Albalucía Angel, and Isabel Allende. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.
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