And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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Analysis

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Last Updated March 12, 2024.

“And of Clay Are We Created” is the last story in Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende’s collection The Stories of Eva Luna, first published in Spanish in 1989, with an English translation released two years later. 

As Allende is primarily a novelist, the book was her first and last collection of short stories. The narrator of all stories in the collection is Eva Luna, the main character from Allende’s 1987 novel of the same name. Another character from the novel included in the collection is Rolf Carlé, Eva’s lover.

The collection is book-ended with excerpts from One Thousand and One Nights, with the epigraph describing how, for three years, the King has coupled with a different virgin every night and executed them afterward. In this classic piece of Arabian literature, the gruesome tradition is brought to an end by Scheherazade, who gradually wins the King’s love by telling him a story every night for one thousand and one nights.

The Stories of Eva Luna utilizes the same framing device. Like Scheherazade, Eva Luna lies in bed with Rolf Carlé, who asks her: “Tell me a story you have never told anyone before. Make it up for me.” Thus follows the twenty-three stories of the collection. Because of Allende’s background as a journalist, some of these stories draw from real-life events, such as the torture of political prisoners under the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime. Their themes range from political oppression and exploitation to motherhood and romantic love.

In a 1991 interview, Allende explained how “And of Clay Are We Created” draws from the real-life eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia in 1985 and the subsequent mudflows that claimed upwards of 22,000 lives. The character of Azucena is based on Omayra Sánchez, who was trapped in the mud for days before she died due to the failure of rescue teams to secure a water pump. Before she passed away, an international audience bore witness to her agonizing plight through their television screens.

The girl’s harrowing fate haunted Allende, so much so that she kept a picture of Sánchez’ on her desk to memorialize her. Years after, she was able to confront her feelings by fictionalizing the event. However, one of the most remarkable aspects of “And of Clay Are We Created” is Allende’s conscious choice not to delve deep into the mental and emotional state of Omayra Sánchez—or Azucena. Instead, she remains a mystified figure, simultaneously within and above the tragic landscape.

At multiple points, Azucena is depicted not as a person but as a representation of the suffering around her. She is a “symbol of the tragedy” and carries the “pathetic responsibility of embodying the horror.” While the conflict is Azucena’s life hanging in the balance, the core issue that the story concerns itself with is spectatorship—the relationship between the observer and the observed. Allende presents several layers of spectatorship, including between Eva Luna and Rolf, Rolf and Azucena, and Rolf and his past self. There are also scores of nameless viewers watching through their screens.

While these layers are woven with suffering and empathy, Allende brings to the forefront the excruciating knowledge that observers are separated from the observed by almost insurmountable barriers—what Eva Luna calls “impenetrable glass.” This separation brings a deeper meaning to the overarching frame device used in The Stories of Eva Luna; while storytelling and reportage can be powerful, their power is at times limited to ascribing meaning. In his helplessness, Rolf can only look to his past, transposing his own suffering onto Azucena’s.

The epilogue of “And of Clay Are...

(This entire section contains 709 words.)

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We Created” mirrors the prologue in its sudden shift to a second-person voice. While the prologue is told in Rolf’s voice, as he lies in bed with Eva Luna and entreats her to tell him stories, the epilogue is Eva Luna directly addressing Rolf. Such a disruption makes for a fitting end to The Stories of Eva Luna, as it collapses the barriers of spectatorship within the collection. For a brief moment, Eva Luna turns away from the reader and promises her lover that they will “walk hand in hand” once more.

Literary Style

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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 watching him on television.

For Allende herself, point of view is one of the most important elements of ‘‘And of Clay We Are Created.’’ In an interview with Farhat Iftekharuddin, she explains that when she first tried to write the story she told it from ‘‘an intellectual point of view’’ and focused on the girl Azucena. She eventually came to feel that this point of view was not presenting the proper story, and that her focus should be not on the girl but on Carlé. She wrote another draft of the story from the reporter’s point of view, but found this unsatisfactory as well. Finally, she discovered that her focus should be on ‘‘the story of the woman who is watching through a screen the man who holds the girl,’’ and she rewrote the story yet again, this time using the point of view of the unnamed female narrator.

Epilogue
An epilogue is a concluding section to a literary work, one that adds to the main composition and rounds it off. It would be possible to think of ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created’’ as complete as soon as Azucena sinks ‘‘slowly, a flower in the mud.’’ If the story were concerned mainly with the girl or with the reporter, this would be a satisfying ending. But because Allende is concerned primarily with the development of the narrator throughout the story, she offers the final section, or epilogue, to bring the narrator back to center stage. The epilogue is set apart and dramatically different from the rest of the story: the time, the place, and even the point of view shift abruptly between the main story and the epilogue.

Dramatic Irony
As it is usually understood, dramatic irony is the contrast between what the characters in a story understand and the deeper understanding of the story’s readers. Several instances of dramatic irony shape ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created.’’ For example, it is ironic that a group of people who can assemble a tremendous collection of technical gear to show a trapped Azucena to the world cannot find a pump and get her out. With the exception of Rolf Carlé, the media people themselves do not see the irony; there is no hint that they find the situation remarkable or frustrating. The reader, guided by the narrator who repeatedly mentions the pump and describes the maze of cables and machines, sees the absurdity that the characters themselves do not see. Another example of dramatic irony, which may or may not be seen by the narrator, is the fact that the narrator is closer emotionally to Carlé while she is watching him on television than she is when they are reunited. The effect of dramatic irony in this story is that the reader finds lessons in the story that the characters themselves do not see.

Compare and Contrast

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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.

1990s: Approximately ninety-five percent of Colombians are Roman Catholic, and ninety percent of all Latin Americans are Roman Catholic. Latin Americans who practice indigenous religions increasingly organize and work for official recognition.

1980s: Many South American nations have autocratic governments led by military regimes and military dictators.

1990s: The South American countries are led by democratically elected presidents. Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, forced out in 1989, is the last of the South American military dictators.

Media Adaptations

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The Stories of Eva Luna, the collection from which ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created’’ is taken, was recorded in 1991 by Elizabeth Peña. The two-cassette set was produced by Dove Audio Books and is distributed by NewStar Media.

Bibliography

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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.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
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 Infidel’’ [Interview with Allende], New Perspectives Quarterly, Vol. 8, Winter, 1991, p. 57.

Further Reading
Allende, Isabel, ‘‘Writing As an Act of Hope,’’ in Paths of Resistance: The Art and Craft of the Political Novel, edited by William Zinsser, Houghton Mifflin, 1989, pp. 39–63. Allende describes the violence, poverty, and beauty of Latin America, and explains that storytelling is the best medium for communicating its truths. ‘‘I write,’’ she reveals, ‘‘so that people will love each other more.’’

de Carvalho, Susan, ‘‘Escrituras y Escritoras: The Artist- Protagonist of Isabel Allende,’’ in Discurso Literario, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1992, pp. 59–67. An essay examining the character of Eva Luna, and how she uses storytelling as a means of self-examination. Although this essay refers to the novel Eva Luna, its insights may be profitably applied to the narrator of ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created.’’

Leonard, Kathy S., ed., Index to Translated Short Fiction by Latin-American Women in English Language Anthologies, Greenwood, 1997. An excellent guide through the dozens of anthologies that include, as the title indicates, English translations of short stories by Latin-American women. Useful for locating works by Allende, and also for finding available works by her peers.

Rodden, John, ed., Conversations with Isabel Allende, University of Texas Press, 1999. An extensive collection of interviews from various literary journals, originally published in English or translated from Spanish, German, and Dutch. The volume includes an index and annotated bibliography.

Rojas, Sonia Riquelme, and Edna Aguirre Rehbien, eds., Critical Approaches to Isabel Allende’s Novels, Peter Lang, 1991. Although it deals only with Allende’s first three novels, this collection reveals and explores the central critical issues in her fiction. The essays are in English and in untranslated Spanish. The Introduction, in English, is an excellent overview of the biographical and political sources of Allende’s major themes.

Shaw, Donald Leslie, The Post-Boom in Spanish American Fiction, State University of New York Press, 1998. An analysis of Latin-American literature produced since the mid-1970s following the ‘‘Boom,’’ a period that saw an explosion of internationally important works by Latin-American writers. Works written after the Boom tend to be more concerned with contemporary Latin-American society, especially with working- class and middle-class characters.

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