And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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

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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...

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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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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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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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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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In "And of Clay Are We Created", what is the relationship between Rolf and Azucena? What do they give to each other? What kind of love do they share?

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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In "And of Clay Are We Created", what is the relationship between Rolf and Azucena? What do they give to each other? What kind of love do they share?

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 Rolfand Azucena do for each other 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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