And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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Last Updated March 12, 2024.

Crisis as Spectacle

In the immediate aftermath of the devastating avalanche in “And Of Clay Are We Created,” the people who reach the scene first are news reporters like Rolf Carle. While there are a few volunteers present, it is not until the second day that most of the soldiers and healthcare workers arrive to help the surviving victims. The first paragraph begins with a description of Azucena’s trapped state, as transmitted to television screens nationwide. In this way, the story asserts one of humankind’s primary instincts during crisis: Reportage and documentation.

Upon reaching Azucena, Rolf Carle’s camera crew zooms in on her face as he interviews her. After staying by her side through the night, however, he finds that he cannot bear to look at her “through a lens” anymore. Waves of news teams arrive with equipment such as “precision lenses, recorders, sound consoles, lights, reflecting screens, auxiliary motors,” to broadcast Azucena’s face in clear, sharp quality. Despite all these technical marvels, no one is able to provide Rolf with the water pump he needs to rescue her.

At one point, Eva Luna notes that the media has appropriated Azucena, calling her the face of the disaster. Even the president visits her, declaring to an international audience that her courage is “an example to the nation.” He does not, however, save her life. While reportage is essential in times of crisis, the prioritization of media coverage over aid efforts transforms the reality of suffering and loss of human life into a spectacle. For all their lip service to values such as courage and cooperation, the “vultures and helicopters” of the media may also contribute to negligence, apathy, and corruption.

The Mirror of Suffering

On his second night by Azucena’s side, Rolf attempts to sing her to sleep with the Austrian folk songs he learned from his mother as a child. The hopelessness of the situation—coupled with his exhaustion and hunger—renders him emotionally vulnerable and reopens the wounds of his past. Inspired by the pain of Azucena's plight, he feels compelled to look back on his traumatic childhood in post-World War II Austria.

Because the girl had “surrendered her fears to him,” he is forced to face the fears he shared at her age. Much like her, he had felt trapped in a suffocating pit—instead of mud, however, he was pinned down by the weight of his father’s abuse and his mother’s neglect. For the first time, Rolf also weeps from the guilt of having failed to protect his deceased sister, Katharine. He comes to the realization that he has been hiding behind the lens of a camera—his feats and exploits have served as strategic distractions from his inner demons.

Because he spends time with Azucena, learning about her quaint life in the village and empathizing with her tragic plight, Rolf loses the objective distance he must maintain as a news reporter. In contrast, Eva Luna despairs over the situation from the other side of the television screen, remaining separated by “impenetrable glass.” Over the three days he stays by her side, Rolf grows to see Azucena’s suffering not as a news article but for what it is: A mirror that forces one to confront their own tragic reflection.

Death and Freedom

Although she is only thirteen, Azucena displays remarkable faith and courage in the face of death. On the first night of her imprisonment in the mud, she tries to keep her spirits up and tells Rolf stories about herself. When the situation becomes more dire, and Rolf breaks down from exhaustion and his own personal battles from the...

(This entire section contains 800 words.)

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past, she even tries to comfort him. Azucena tells him not to cry, declaring: “I don’t hurt anymore.” This is one of the ways in which pain contrasts with death as the greater of the two burdens.

One of the most notable differences between Azucena and Rolf is that she has religious faith while he does not. She even teaches him how to pray—an act he solemnly performs when she finally passes away. What he prays for is not salvation, however, but Azucena’s quick release from her pain.

“And of Clay Are We Created” draws a close connection between death and freedom. The title references the Catholic belief that humans are destined to return to clay, the material from which they were created. Both death and freedom involve the dissolution of boundaries—an unshackling of the forms that cage us. After her death, Azucena is described as sinking like “a flower in the mud.” Eva Luna describes Azucena and Rolf as having accepted death, rising above the ugly wreckage of the disaster and all its vultures—it is in this humble acceptance that freedom appears.

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