And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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Discussion Topic

The use of setting, conflict, and characters to create mood in "And of Clay Are We Created" and examples of this mood

Summary:

In "And of Clay Are We Created," Isabel Allende uses the setting of a natural disaster, the conflict of survival, and the characters' emotional struggles to create a mood of despair and helplessness. Examples of this mood include the trapped girl, Azucena, and the reporter, Rolf Carlé, whose growing bond highlights the pervasive sense of human vulnerability and suffering.

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How does the author use setting, conflict, and characters to create mood in "And of Clay Are We Created"?

Mood in literature, the emotional setting of a narrative, is created through the use of several elements: setting, conflict, attitude of the narrator, portrayal of characters, authorial voice.

  • Setting

Without doubt, in Isabella Allende's poignant story the setting of the disastrous volcanic eruption in Chile generates in readers a certain tension, anxiety, and sympathy. The individualization of Azucena, whose name ironically suggests ascension elicits pathos as Azucena "embodies the horror of what had happened." And, the frustration of the reporter Rolf in his attempts to free the girl, and then his desperate pleas for a pump to eliminate the water so that she could be released certainly creates a tense and apprehensive mood. The fear for Azucena is increased in readers as they read of doctor's having to amputate limbs without pain killers and antibiotics, for the indications are that this third world country does not have the resources necessary for such a disaster and Azucena's position is fragile.

  • Conflict

There is a tension as Rolf tries first to free the trapped girl with his physical might, then her plight demands his solicitude; further, it involves his psyche as it triggers his childhood memories of suffering--demons he has hidden, but now must confront in this time of bare emotion in which Rolf can no longer take "refuge behind a lens to test whether reality was more tolerable from that perspective." And, so the struggle with death by Azucena involves also Rolf's struggle with the dead memories which re-emerge.

  • Attitude of the narrator

The narrator's particular diction and syntax convey a sensibility toward Rolf and the girl's plight that evoke the reader's interest, concern, sympathies, and other feelings. For instance, such sentences as "Time had stagnated and reality had been irreparably distorted" creates "a menace of uncertainty" that extends from the narrative into readers. Also, the loving narrator becomes emotionally involved in the poignant situation which holds her man in the balance between life and death and memory. She mentions how she, too, has made attempts to get help to the trapped girl, and how closely she watches the man telling stories to the Chilean girl, the same man with whom she exchanged those stories "a thousand and one nights beneath the white mosquito netting of our bed." Further, the narrator "felt his frustration, his impotence." She views "the decomposing bodies" and the "frenzied and futile activity." 

The solicitude of Rolf is touching, even more so as readers learn of his similar attempts to protect his sister in their youth. His bravado in going into dangerous situations is his attempt to purge himself of his past ghosts. Upon his return home, he is changed; the narrator speaks to him inside herself,

I wait for you to complete the voyage into yourself, for the old wounds to heal. I know that when you return from your nightmares, we shall again walk hand in hand, as before

The young girl's plight is very touching,

her dark face, her large desolate eyes, the plastered-down tangle of her hair. The mud was like quicksand around her, and anyone attempting to reach her was in danger of sinking. 

and her death is extremely moving,

Azucena gave up, her eyes locked with those of the friend who had sustained her to the end. Rolf Carle removed the life buoy, closed her eyelids, held her to his chest for a few moments, and then let her go. 

  • Authorial Voice

The narrator's use of metaphor contributes much to mood, as well. For example, her insightful comments about Rolf add to the distress of his plight to help and his efforts to comfort Azucena as he is faced with its harsh reality. In the final lines, she expresses her solicitude and love for Rolf in touching fashion as she watches how he studies the film of the plight of the pitiful girl:

...you study them intently, looking for something you could have done to save her, something you did not think of in time. Or maybe you study them to see yourself as if in a mirror, naked. Your cameras lie forgotten in a closet; you do not write or sing; you sit long hours before the window staring at the mountains. Beside you, I wait for you to complete the voyage into yourself, for the old wounds to heal. I know that when you return from your nightmares, we shall again walk hand in hand, as before.

Her final descriptive metaphor of Azucena as she dies is also heart-rending, "She sand slowly, a flower in the mud."

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

In 1985, in Colombia, a volcano erupted and caused the deaths of more than 23,000 people. "And Of Clay We Are Created" is a short story based on that event.

At the beginning of the story the mood is macabre and tragic. We are told that those responding to the disaster found a "girl's head protruding from the mudpit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly." We are also told that there are thousands of other bodies beneath the landslide and that the "odor of death was already attracting vultures from far away." As well as macabre, tragic sights and smells, the narrator also describes the sounds of "weeping...orphans," and the "wails of the injured." This macabre and tragic mood is present for all of the story.

In the middle part of the story, the reader is encouraged to see things from the perspective of the reporter who is trying to help the little girl, and thus the mood of the story becomes, like the reporter, frustrated and increasingly desperate. He is described as "determined to snatch (the girl) from death," but, nonetheless, he emerges "frustrated, covered with mud, and spitting gravel."

At the end of the extract the girl, Azucena, sadly dies, and the mood of the story becomes mournful. The reporter, Rolf Carlé, "close(s) her eyelids, (holds) her to his chest for a few moments, and then lets her go." The little girl is described rather beautifully but also very sadly and tragically, as a slowly sinking "flower in the mud."

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