And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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Discussion Topic

Analysis of themes, symbols, and authorial intent in "And of Clay Are We Created."

Summary:

In "And of Clay Are We Created," key themes include human suffering, the power of the media, and personal transformation. Symbols such as the clay represent entrapment and the fragility of life. Isabel Allende's intent is to highlight the emotional and psychological impact of tragedy on individuals, while critiquing the role of media in exploiting such events for sensationalism.

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What are some symbols in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

Two symbols that appear at various points are the tire and television.

Rolf becomes very involved with Azucena’s survival and hopeful rescue. He tries various tactics to release her from the mud, but has to admit that she is truly stuck. More than the mud, such as rubble or even other bodies, is holding her from below. He finally uses an old tire to prop her head up, and her head manages to stay out of the mud for a couple days. She does finally die, but not from drowning. The tire stands for hope.

Because Rolf has decided to help Azucena, he sets aside his role as cameraman. Although there are other news crews there, Rolf stops shooting. Yet because of the television, his girlfriend back home (the narrator) can see and hear the tragedy unfold. Although Rolf is not speaking directly to her, she maintains communication. Television stands for transformation. Rolf changes because he gives up his camera; he is not using the same mode of communication, and his reflections are part of what alters him. At the same time, because the narrator feels close to him and the others on the scene, she projects her story-telling power onto him. He remembers some of the stories she is always telling him, and in turn tells them to Azucena. Here as well, his personality changes by taking in some of his girlfriend’s identity.

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What are some symbols in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

One of the central symbols of this story for me at least is the pump. This pump and its unattainability seems to be a symbol of the real lack of compassion and care of humanity in the face of suffering. Consider the following passage:

In the meanwhile, more television and movie teams arrived with spools of cable, tapes, film, videos, precision lenses, recorders, sound consoles, lights, reflecting screens, auxiliary motors, cartons of supplies, electricians, sound technicians, and cameramen: Azucena's face was beamed to millioins of screens around the world. And all the wile Rolf Carle kept pleading for a pump.

Note how a very short and simple sentence is placed after a long sentence which lists all the sophisticated technology that reporters bring with them. They are able to do incredible things thanks to technology, but somehow bringing a pump to save Azucena eludes them.

You might want to think as well about how Azucena herself might be a symbol and what she symbolises. This should start you off though - good luck!

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What is the theme in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

I would argue that the three main themes in And of Clay Are We Created­ are the power of nature, loyalty, and helplessness.

The power of nature is evidenced in the situation that young Azucena has found herself in. Thanks to a volcanic eruption that has sent mudslides into many local villages, Azucena has been swallowed, up to her neck, by a mud pit. A series of natural disasters have left Azucena in a terrifying predicament and ultimately lead to her death.

The theme of loyalty is introduced by the Rolfe Carle, the partner of our narrator. He transforms from being an objective newsreader, present in the area to inform and observe, to being an emotionally involved lifeline for Azucena. His growing emotional involvement inspires him to stay with her throughout the last days and nights of her life, providing encouragement and telling stories to distract her from her predicament.

The theme of helplessness is powerfully and heartbreakingly portrayed in this story. Our narrator does everything possible to try and locate a pump that could save the girl’s life. All her efforts are futile, and while the President of Colombia eventually promises a pump, it proves to be an empty promise. Both Rolfe and Eva Luna remain unable to help the girl, despite their deep emotional involvement and desire to save her.

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What is the theme in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

The struggle between humans and the natural world has been explored time and again in countless plays, novels, poems, and stories. "And of Clay Are We Created" is one of many such examples. In Allende's short story, the struggle is won decisively by nature, despite man's extraordinary technological advances.

Technology may have given Rolf Carle and other members of the international news media the wherewithal to broadcast live reports all over the world, but it cannot save the life of a little girl trapped by an enormous mudslide. In taking the life of Azucena, the forces of nature have scored yet another victory over human civilization.

The impotence of science and technology in the face of nature is further illustrated by the inability of seismologists and geologists to determine the precise time of the volcano's eruption, the very eruption that set off the massive mudslide that has caused so much death and destruction.

But even if these scientists were able to know when a volcano would erupt, they would not be able to do anything to stop it. In the event, the scientists find themselves in the exact same position as Rolf. They can only stand by and watch while nature takes its inexorable course.

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What is the theme in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

The main themes in "And of Clay Are We Created"are the fragility of life, the fearful power of nature, and the determination of the human spirit.

In the story, the devastation caused by the volcanic eruption reinforces the fragility of life and the formidable power of nature. The text tells us that the eruption broke loose "walls of snow" and buried the villages under "unfathomable meters of telluric vomit." No one had expected the immense sheets of snow to melt. The resulting avalanche of "clay, stones, and water" submerged all the "houses, plazas, churches, white cotton plantations, dark coffee forests, cattle pastures" in its path.

We are told that "more than twenty thousand human beings" and an "indefinite number of animals" lay "putrefying in a viscous soup." The frightening visual imagery highlights the destruction caused by nature and the ephemeral reality of life.

The most pivotal characters in the story, however, are Azucena and Rolf Carle. Their collective resolve and courage highlight all that is exemplary in human nature. The text tells us that Rolf Carle exhausts "all the resources of his ingenuity" to save Azucena. Despite his efforts, however, he is not able to free the brave little girl from her muddy tomb. In dying with dignity and courage, Azucena inspires Carle to confront his own fears. Together, they stare death in the face and battle their demons. Their story highlights the depth of the human spirit and humanity's tenuous hold on life.

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What is the theme in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

This highly interesting story seems to have many themes, not just one. Clearly one of the key topics of the story concerns the relationship between Azucena and Rolf Carle, and the way in which this experience enables Rolf to face certain memories of his past and childhood. If you are interested, these are featured in Isabel Allende's novel, Eva Luna. The traumatic experience of watching Azucena slowly die breaks down the barriers within Rolf Carle:

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 hte obstacles that had blocked his consciousness for so long.

The connection between them and the intimacy which they are forced into means that Rolf recognises how his past resembles Azucena's present:

He was Azucena; he was buried in the clayey mud; his terror was not the distant emotion of an almost forgotten childhood, it was a claw sunk in his throat.

As Rolf says to Azucena after this night of revelation, he is not crying for Azucena, but for himself, for he hurts all over.

The title seems to suggest that for individuals like Rolf, tragedies such as that of Azucena confront us with our own fragility - we are made of clay - a breakable, fragile substance, even though so often we try to live our lives as if we are unbreakable and stronger.

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What is the theme in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

Like most stories, this story seems to have many different and varying themes. Clearly one of the key topics of the story concerns the relationship between Azucena and Rolf Carle, and the way in which this experience enables Rolf to face certain memories of his past and childhood. If you are interested, these are featured in Isabel Allende's novel, Eva Luna. The traumatic experience of watching Azucena slowly die breaks down the barriers within Rolf Carle:

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.

The connection between them and the intimacy which they are forced into means that Rolf recognises how his past resembles Azucena's present:

He was Azucena; he was buried in the clay mud; his terror was not the distant emotion of an almost forgotten childhood, it was a claw sunk in his throat.

As Rolf says to Azucena after this night of revelation, he is not crying for Azucena, but for himself, for he hurts all over.

The title seems to suggest that for individuals like Rolf, tragedies such as that of Azucena confront us with our own fragility - we are made of clay - a breakable, fragile substance, even though so often we try to live our lives as if we are unbreakable and stronger. We finish reading this story, therefore, wiser if not sadder about our own fragility.

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What is the theme in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

As the title of this excellent short story suggests, the central relation we can draw between this story and real life is the awareness that we are, indeed, made of "clay" and therefore fragile, just as Rolf shows himself to be through his relationship with Azucena. Notice how invulnerable Rolf appears to be at the beginning of the story:

Nothing could stop him, and I was always amazed at his equanimity in the face of danger and suffering; it seemed as if nothing could shake his fortitude or deter his curiosity. Fear seemed never to touch him...

The relationship that Rolf forges with Azucena forces him to be aware of his own inner vulnerability, and strangely enough, by accepting this, he actually experiences a real sense of release. In the same way, psychologists would argue that we gain a similar sense of release and freedom when we are able to be open about our own intense vulnerability and fragile nature.

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What is the theme in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

This is such a great story - I really like the work of Isabel Allende. She seems to be able to create worlds that sweep her readers away with ease and characters that we can relate to. Like most stories, this story seems to have many different and varying central ideas. Clearly one of the key topics of the story concerns the relationship between Azucena and Rolf Carle, and the way in which this experience enables Rolf to face certain memories of his past and childhood. If you are interested, these are featured in Isabel Allende's novel, Eva Luna. The traumatic experience of watching Azucena slowly die breaks down the barriers within Rolf Carle:

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.

The connection between them and the intimacy which they are forced into means that Rolf recognises how his past resembles Azucena's present:

He was Azucena; he was buried in the clay mud; his terror was not the distant emotion of an almost forgotten childhood, it was a claw sunk in his throat.

As Rolf says to Azucena after this night of revelation, he is not crying for Azucena, but for himself, for he hurts all over.

The title seems to suggest that for individuals like Rolf, tragedies such as that of Azucena confront us with our own fragility - we are made of clay - a breakable, fragile substance, even though so often we try to live our lives as if we are unbreakable and stronger. We finish reading this story, therefore, wiser if not sadder about our own fragility. This, to me, is the central idea that we are confronted with in this story.

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What is the author's purpose in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

Isabel Allende herself wrote a lot about the true historical experience that inspired this amazing story. Above all, what inspired Allende to write this tale was the figure of Omaira Sanchez, who is depicted by Azucena in the story. Note what Allende says about her:

Her eyes staring from the television screen have haunted me ever since. I still have her photograph on my desk; again and again I studied it, trying to comprehend the meaning of her martyrdom.

Allende found she had reason to return to this image again later on after writing this short story, when her own daughter died, as she felt she was finally able to "decipher the message in those intense black eyes: patience, courage, resignation, dignity in the face of death."

If we think of these words from the author herself, clearly we could argue that the purpose of this story is to try and communicate the meaning of Azucena's life and death. In particular, what is interesting is the bond that Rolf Carle forms with her and how her suffering forces Rolf Carle to confront his own suffering:

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 ofmemory poured out, leveling before it the obstacles tha thad blocked his consciousness for so long.

In the face of such suffering as Azucena's the story seems to suggest, we are all forced to confront our own suffering and the way that we have repressed it in our lives.

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What does the title "And of Clay Are We Created" mean?

One way to interpret the title of the story is in light of the Biblical account of the creation of Adam:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

Although Allende herself rebelled against the Church, and has stated in interviews that she is not traditionally religious, she was writing in an environment which was predominantly Roman Catholic and would be familiar with Christian symbolism. 

A second element of this religious allusion is the notion that "all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again," repeated in the Ash Wednesday liturgy during the imposition of ashes (Ecclesiastes 3:20). 

In the story, Azucena has been buried in mud during an earthquake and is slowly and painfully dying as she returns to the earth both in the metaphorical sense (death) and literal (buried in a mudslide). 

As well as destruction, though, there is creation in the way Rolf Carlé, the protagonist, reconnects with his own emotions as he attempts to console and support the dying girl. 

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What does the title "And of Clay Are We Created" mean?

The phrase often refers to the malleability of human kind: The ability that we all have to transform and be transformed by the many experiences we endure throughout our life. Also, it is an allegory to the creation of man from the group by God and the making of Adam. It is also the precursor to the phrase "from dust you come, to dust  you will return", as the clay packs that same ethereal dust from which man was supposedly created.

It also pays tribute to the fact that we are not the strongest, nor the toughest, nor the most perfect. We are simple creatures...made of clay. It is a call to humbleness, a remembrance of our imperfections, and a reminder that all that we may destroy, we can create again.

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