Isabel Allende’s description of Rolf and Azucena as “freed from the clay” refers to both characters physically leaving the mudslide in which Azucena was trapped. It also refers metaphorically to the human connection between the journalist and the girl, which is cut off through her death. Another metaphorical reference is to death itself, as the human body is often said to be made of clay. In the case of Azucena, she becomes liberated from the clay when she passes away. In reference to Rolf, however, his freedom comes about only through her death, when he can stop trying to hearten and comfort her, easing her passage from life.
Although Azucena’s death is a tragedy, throughout the story, it becomes increasingly evident that she cannot escape death. The circumstances by which she is trapped cannot be resolved, and she will not live much longer. Rolf’s decision is to stay with her, trying to bring solace as she bravely endures this grotesque situation. Ironically, through helping her in those last hours, he actually becomes more deeply mired in the clay, as he comes to value human life more than he had previously. His letting go of this brave girl helps him appreciate both the value and the fragility of existence.