Isabel Allende’s ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created’’ is the last story in her only collection of short stories, The Stories of Eva Luna. All of the twenty-three stories in the collection are narrated by Eva Luna, who was also the title character of Allende’s third novel. Luna tells the stories while in bed with her lover, Rolf Carlé, drawing her inspiration from Scheherazade, who in the Arabian Nights saves her sister’s life and her own by telling stories for a thousand and one nights. Readers who come to ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created’’ having already read Eva Luna and the rest of the short stories will understand all of this before they begin. They will be familiar with the characters Luna and Carlé and the relationship between them, and they will know the value Luna places on stories and storytelling.
For readers who encounter the story away from the context of the collection, however, the reading experience is a very different one. These readers do not know the name of the narrator, or that she is a writer of television dramas, or that she is a person to whom Carlé said, ‘‘You think in words; for you, language is an inexhaustible thread you weave as if life were created as you tell it.’’ For these readers, it would be easy to ignore the narrator and to focus instead on the dramatic story of Azucena, the girl trapped in the mud, and the television reporter Rolf Carlé who tries to rescue her. The narrator’s narration, certainly, focuses on Carlé and the changes he undergoes through his experience with the girl. Any mentions by the narrator of her own reactions and emotions are intended to help her audience understand her lover’s ordeal.
Allende, however, has spoken frequently about her intentions for the story. For her, the story is about ‘‘the woman who is watching through a screen the man who holds the girl. This filter of the screen creates an artificial filter and terrible distance but also a terrible proximity because you see details that you would not see if you were actually there. And so, the story is about the change in the woman who watches the man holding the girl who is dying.’’ If this is true (and we must give Allende credit for insight into her own work), what is the change in the narrator throughout ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created,’’ as it can be observed by a reader of this story alone? If the story is meant to demonstrate what happens to a woman watching her lover from afar, what does it ultimately reveal?
When Carlé leaves to cover the story, neither he nor the narrator understands what is to come. The narrator reports that she ‘‘had no presentiments.’’ Carlé has often been the first on the scene, and has covered dramatic and dangerous stories before ‘‘with awesome tenacity.’’ The narrator has watched him on television many times, and admired the way nothing seems to touch him or frighten him. She has learned over the years that his reporter’s objectivity is really a protective mechanism that shields him from his own emotions. Knowing how unemotional he tries to hold himself, the narrator reacts strongly to the sound of his resolve slipping when he promises Azucena he will get her out: ‘‘I could hear his voice break, and I loved him more than ever.’’
Until Carlé’s objectivity starts to give way, the narrator feels herself to be a part of the large audience watching him. Twice she refers to herself as part of the ‘‘we’’ who see Carlé and the girl on the screen. But after he begins to change his stance, her own changes as well. Now she moves from her home to the television studio, to be ‘‘near his world,’’ and she refers to herself as his partner instead of as his audience. She has overheard his plea for a pump, and goes on radio and television ‘‘to see if there wasn’t someone who could help us.’’...
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