And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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Characterization and Relationship Dynamics between Rolf Carle and Azucena in "And of Clay Are We Created"

Summary:

In "And of Clay Are We Created," Rolf Carle and Azucena form a profound bond during her entrapment. Rolf, a cameraman, offers Azucena comfort and companionship, while she, in turn, enables him to confront and share his buried traumas. Their relationship is mutually healing; Rolf provides emotional support to Azucena in her final moments, and she helps him begin to address his past pains.

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What do Rolf and Azucena exchange in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

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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What do Rolf and Azucena exchange in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

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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What do Rolf and Azucena exchange in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

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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What do Rolf and Azucena exchange in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

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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What do Rolf and Azucena exchange in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

In Allende's short story "And of Clay Are We Created," Rolf Carlé is portrayed as a dedicated reporter who is one of the first to arrive on the scene following the earthquake. Rolf Carlé discovers a thirteen-year-old girl named Azucena stuck in the quagmire and remains by her side for three consecutive days. The narrator watches on television as Rolf attempts to rescue Azucena from the mud but is unable to do so. As Rolf exhausts his resources, he does his best to console Azucena by telling her his personal adventure stories to take her mind off the pain. As time passes, Rolf becomes exhausted and Azucena's hopeless situation begins to take an emotional toll on him. Rolf forgets that he is reporting and becomes consumed with Azucena's tragic fate. Azucena teaches Rolf how to pray and listens to his stories as they patiently wait for a water pump. In the middle of the tragic situation, Azucena provides Rolf with the opportunity to confront his past and face his demons. Allende writes,

Azucena had surrendered her fear to him and so, without wishing it, had obliged Rolf to confront his own. (9)

Rolf allows his difficult, suppressed memories to surface as he sits with Azucena and recalls his traumatic upbringing. On a deep, emotional level, Azucena's pain and tragic situation connect with Rolf's traumatic past, and the two become inseparable. Rolf sympathizes with Azucena and experiences a strong emotional bond with her before she passes away. Rolf and Azucena share a unique, unconditional love and connection, which they acquire through their common experiences. At the end of the story, Rolf not only grieves for Azucena but also laments his tortured past and recognizes that her tragic fate has taught him how to confront and manage his own pain.

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What do Rolf and Azucena exchange in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

Rolf and Azucena share a dynamic relationship in “And of Clay Are We Created” by Isabel Allende.

Originally, when Rolf arrives at the site of the mudslide he is working as a reporter for a major news outlet, but he leaves a changed man. He locates Azucena, the little girl partially buried in the clay. While observing her situation, he realizes her situation is not just a story to be covered as a job. He knows he must stay with her and facilitate her rescue. At first he frantically tries to get aid for her, but as time passes he realizes he has become an emotional support system for the girl. As night falls, she pleads with him to stay with her.

“Don’t leave me alone,” she begged.

“No, of course I won’t leave you.”

During the hours the two spend together, they connected. The little girl demonstrated her bravery as she faced increasingly dire circumstances. As Rolf observes Azucena’s strength, he changes from her support system to a man who bravely faces his difficult past. This is something he never allowed himself to do.  Although, he sets out to save the little girl’s life, she ends up allowing him to face his past so that he can heal and move forward with his life as she loses her.

Do they demonstrate “love”? Can you develop love in three days? In this story, some would say the two characters developed an unconditional love which allows them to bare their hearts and souls to each other.  When help does not arrive, Rolf stays with the little girl, singing and talking to her through the hours. His job as a photo journalist is forgotten, instead he focuses all his attention on bolstering the girl. But as time passes, and she becomes weaker, his disastrous childhood creeps into his consciousness. Although, he cannot tell Azucena all the sordid details, he allows her to have a cathartic effect on him. One of her final expressions is that of never being loved by a boy. Rolf assures her he loves her more than anything. Her death allows him to live a life unencumbered by his past.

Rolf's partner was a distant observer, and she says,

I was there when she told him that in all her thirteen years no boy had ever loved her and that it was a pity to leave this world without knowing love. Rolf assured her that he loved her more than he could ever love anyone, more than he loved his mother, more than his sister, more than all the women who had slept in his arms, more than he loved me, his life companion, who would have given anything to be trapped in that well in her place, who would have exchanged her life for Azucena’s, and I watched as he leaned down to kiss her poor forehead, consumed by a sweet, sad emotion he could not name. I felt how in that instant both were saved from despair, how they were freed from the clay, how they rose above the vultures and helicopters, how together they flew above the vast swamp of corruption and laments. How, finally, they were able to accept death. Rolf Carlé prayed in silence that she would die quickly, because such pain cannot be borne.

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What do Rolf and Azucena exchange in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

This is such a wonderful short story, and of course one of the reasons for that is the way that the relationship between these two key characters is presented. It is clear that Rolf is tremendously moved to view the plight of Azucena. He stays with her and tries to support her. Yet the paradox is that in the end it appears that Azucena helps Rolf more than he helps her. It is immensely significant that in the penultimate paragraph, the author describes what they did for each other:

I felt how in that instant both were saved from despair, how they were freed from the clay, how they rose above the vultures and helicopters, how together they flew above the vast swamp of corruption and laments. How, finally, they were able to accept death.

We have already seen how Azucena managed to "unlock" a variety of emotions and experiences in Rolf, and here we see that they are able to help each other accept death. I think there is particular significance in the line "how they were freed from the clay." Of course, as the title suggests, clay is a major symbol of the story as it suggests the inherent fragility of humanity. Becoming "freed from the clay" therefore suggests that their acceptance of death has allowed them to pass this and accept death with equanimity.

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What type of characters are Azucena and Rolf Carle in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

Rolf Carle is a reporter who is sent on assignment to take pictures and report on the rescue attempts to save thirteen-year-old Azucena, a girl who is entrapped in a mud pit due to a volcanic eruption. Rolf's lover acts as a narrator, telling readers that Rolf is known for his calmness in the midst of calamity and his ability to remain emotionally strong in the midst of danger or suffering. She states that being behind a camera allows Rolf to emotionally distance himself from the horrible events on which he must report.

When Rolf trudges into the mud to be with Azucena, he shows both his courage and compassion, trying to help the efforts to rescue her and comfort her in her distress. However, as his time with Azucena lengthens, Rolf's lover comments that "he had completely forgotten the camera" and that "he could not look at the girl through a lens any longer." This tells the reader that Rolf is now emotionally involved in Acuzena's suffering.

As he talks with Azucena, Rolf's character changes and his defensive mechanisms crumble. He begins to metaphorically revisit the tragic sufferings of his past such as having to bury prisoners at the concentration camps during the Holocaust, enduring his father's cruel abuse of him as a child, and facing the guilt he feels at abandoning his retarded sister Katharina before her death. Rolf's true weaknesses are revealed. He is a man who has been running away from his past using his profession as a diversion from his own suffering. When he returns home after Azucena's death, his lover reports that he is not the same man as when he left. She comments that he no longer takes pictures and spends most of his time staring out the window. She knows Rolf is trying to come to terms with his past as he has finally begun to deal with the horrible experiences he endured.

While Rolf is frantic in his efforts to save Azucena, her character remains calm. It is almost as if she is resigned to her impending death. In addition to her calm, Azucena is also described as having a "humble tone," and her words seem as if she is "apologizing for all the fuss" made over her rescue attempts. Azucena shows her caring and loving nature by comforting Rolf even though her own health is deteriorating. She teaches Rolf how to pray and they spend the nights talking. Towards the end of her life, Azucena does show her sadness at not having known love and being deprived of the future joys of life. Rolf tells her that he loves her and this seems to give her comfort. In the end, Azucena proves her inner strength as she comes to terms with the fact that her life will end.

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How is Rolf similar to Azucena in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

Isabel Allende draws a parallel between Rolf and Azucena in the story “And of Clay We Are Created.”

The little girl becomes a symbol or metaphor for Rolf’s hidden, tumultuous childhood. They are alike in that they are burdened with difficult situations. She is buried deep in the clay from the volcanic eruption, and when he approaches her, her wide eyes speak to him. He is drawn to her and cannot leave her side even though he is a seasoned reporter. In the past, he had the ability to detach himself from tragic events while reporting on them with objectivity. In this case, Azucena’s plight reaches deep into his soul. Rolf stays by her side as she spends the night growing weaker, buried in the earth. During this time, Rolf releases his repressed memories of his childhood living with a disabled sibling, an abused mother, and an angry father.

Her plight forces him to face his buried past. Rolf breaks down and cries as his repressed past floods out of him. The young girl he is trying to comfort ends up consoling him through the night. For a time, there is a role reversal in the two characters. For many years Rolf was buried in his past, but as he understands that the little girl’s situation will lead to her death, he realizes he has a chance to live even though it will take him time to heal.

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