And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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What do Rolf and Azucena give to each other in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

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Chilean writer Isabel Allende wrote the short story "And of Clay Are We Created" based on the Armero tragedy in Colombia, which was a volcanic eruption in 1985. Omayra Sanchez was a real 13-year-old girl who died in the accident, and she was the inspiration for the character Azucena.

In the story, Rolf is a cameraman who films the accident for a news station. He also forms a bond with Azucena and talks to her throughout her ordeal of being stuck in the quicksand, trapped under rubble and unable to be pulled out. Despite the many attempts to get her out with various kinds of technology, she remains stuck. Rolf stays and talks to Azucena for three days and nights, eventually telling her the deepest traumas of his past that he had buried inside him, such as his childhood with an abusive father and the guilt he feels about not taking proper care of his mentally handicapped sister. After three days, Azucena dies, and Rolf goes back to his girlfriend and their apartment struck with the grief of having witnessed the tragedy of the young girl die under the mud. In addition to being devastated that she died, Rolf knows that the truths he told her about his past opened a wound he needs to heal.

Therefore, Rolf and Azucena both give each other something in their three days spent together. Rolf gives Azucena comfort in her dying moments. He provides support for her verbally, tells her stories and entertains her, and ensures she is never alone despite being trapped. For her part, Azucena gives Rolf the ability to heal himself moving forward by listening to his truth with compassion. Because of her desperate situation, Rolf is compelled to open up about his trauma from the past, and in doing this also enables healing for himself to occur.

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Rolf, the German journalist, and Azucena, the thirteen-year-old girl who has never left her village on the side of the mountain, give each other the healing gift of the deepest parts of themselves.

As time goes on, and Azucena stays trapped in the mudslide from the volcano, Rolf talks to her incesssantly to help keep her alive. Gradually, Rolf goes through all the stories he has to tell. Exhausted and emotionally stripped down to a nub, Rolf begins to relate to Azucena the pain of his childhood in Nazi Germany. He tells her of his deepest hurts, fears, and sorrows, baring his soul to her. She in turn, when she is dying, tells him of her deep longing her love.

Rolf gives Azucena his soul love. As his own lover and life companion notes, she:

could tell that something fundamental had changed in him. I knew somehow that during the night his defenses had crumbled and he had given in to grief; finally he was vulnerable.

Azucenza dies on the third day, but she and Rolf have developed a connection that is deep and transformative. Azucenza, in her trapped vulnerability, reflects back to Rolf a picture of himself and allows him to start dealing with his own pain and damage. He, in turn, gives her the unconditional love she craves.

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Rolf tries to give Azucena a sense of peace and calm in what he knows will be her last few hours on earth. Yet Azucena already seems accepting of her fate and so doesn't really need Rolf in that respect. She appears to be possessed of an inner peace which is truly astonishing for someone of her age and in her parlous situation.

If anything, it's Rolf, the normally hard-boiled cynical journalist, who's getting emotional as Azucena's plight conjures up nightmarish images from his childhood. In that sense, one could say that Azucena inadvertently gives Rolf the strength to be able to confront the ghosts of his troubled past. In return, Rolf can only give Azucena some much-needed companionship as she heads towards her inevitable doom, to be there for her as best as he can. But ultimately, he knows it's not much, and this merely heightens his already crushing sense of impotence and hopelessness in the face of the inevitable.

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In this amazing story it is clear that what Azucena receives from Rolf is very little compared to what she is able to give to Rolf. From the story, we can see that Rolf gives Azucena support and companionship in her plight. Together, through their companionship, we are told, they learn "to accept death." However, far more emphasis is placed on what Azucena was able to give to Rolf:

The girl had touched a part of him that he himself had not access to, a part he had never shared with me. Rolf had wanted to console here, but it was Azucena who had given him consolation.

Through his relationship with Azucena, painful, unmentionable and repressed parts of Rolf's past are opened up and he is forced to confront unimaginably terrible episodes from his former life:

That night, imperceptibly, the unyielding floodgates that had contained Rolf Carle's past for so many years began to open, and the torrent of all that had lain hidden in the deepest and most secret layers of memory poured out, leveling before it the obstacles that had blocked his consciousness for so long.

Through this friendship he comes to identify with Azucena: "He was Azucena; he was buried in the clayey mud..." It is this identification that allows Rolf to confront what he had repressed, and through this to become a fuller, self-aware individual.

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