Study Guide

The Earthquake in Chile

by Heinrich von Kleist

The Earthquake in Chile Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story opens at the moment of a fatally destructive earthquake, just as the young Spaniard Jeronimo Rugero is about to hang himself in prison. Jeronimo despairs at the fate of his beloved, Donna Josephe, who on this day is to be beheaded for having borne a child on the steps of the cathedral while she was a novice in the Carmelite convent. Her father had sent her to the convent on learning of her secret love for her tutor, Jeronimo. Later, Jeronimo managed to gain access to the convent garden, where their love was consummated.

On hearing the bells accompanying Josephe to her execution, Jeronimo tightens the rope that would tear him away from his wretched life, when suddenly the ground trembles under his feet. The earthquake destroys the major part of the city and rips apart the walls of the prison. Barely conscious, Jeronimo escapes through an opening between the fallen buildings and reaches the nearest gate to the city, where he is filled with feelings of ecstasy and thankfulness at his deliverance. However, depression soon overwhelms him again when he remembers Josephe. He searches for her in vain among the fleeing crowds, then at sundown discovers a distant, solitary valley. On reaching it, he catches sight of a young woman washing her child in a spring. It is Donna Josephe.

The earthquake miraculously rescued her as well, as the falling buildings scattered the gathered crowds and the procession of her executioners. She returned to the convent just in time to rescue her son from the flames engulfing it. Before leaving the city, she noticed that all the seats of power and authority had collapsed, including the prison. Believing Jeronimo dead, she sought out the isolated valley to pray for his soul.

Their...

(The entire section is 714 words.)