Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711
Memory and Reminiscence
For Rolf Carlé, the most important thing that happens during his days with Azucena is his confrontation with his long-buried memories. For years he has refused to think about the horrors of his own past: having to bury concentration camp prisoners, and living with an abusive father who sometimes locked young Rolf in a cabinet. Throughout his professional life as a journalist, he has taken extraordinary risks, choosing to cover wars and natural disasters and placing himself in danger. Talking with Azucena, he comes to realize that these risks have been attempts to build up his courage so that one day he might face his memories and his fears.
The process of remembering is a painful one, bringing this brave, rugged man to tears. Azucena thinks he is crying because of her suffering, but he tells her, ‘‘I’m crying for myself. I hurt all over.’’ The pain continues long after the girl’s death. When Carlé returns home, he has no interest in working, or writing, or singing. He distances himself from everything he loves, including the narrator, and spends hours staring at the mountains and remembering. The narrator understands the process. She knows it will take time ‘‘for the old wounds to heal,’’ but knows also that when the process is complete Carlé will return to her.
Individual versus Nature
The theme of people battling with nature runs through ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created.’’ Time and again, humans set their smartest minds and their most advanced technologies against the indifferent forces of nature and each time humans are defeated. The story is set into motion by the tremendous eruption of the volcano. Using scientific instruments called seismographs, geologists have been able to predict that the mountain is about to erupt, but their technology can only take them so far. They cannot stop the eruption, they cannot say precisely when the eruption will occur, and they cannot convince the inhabitants of the mountain slope to believe their warnings. In spite of ever more sophisticated technology, the forces of nature are far more powerful than the forces of humans.
Allende makes the point clearer when Azucena is trapped. In spite of all the technology at their disposal, a large crowd of people cannot get one small girl free from the grasp of the mud. The news media can assemble an impressive collection of ‘‘spools of cable, tapes, film, videos, precision lenses, recorders, sound consoles, lights, reflecting screens, auxiliary motors, cartons of supplies, electricians, sound technicians, and cameramen,’’ but they cannot deliver and operate one pump to get the girl out. The narrator phones every important person she can think of, and makes appeals on radio and television, but even her superior communications network produces no results. And while millions of people around the world are watching the girl’s struggle on television, they are all helpless against nature.
Cycle of Life
From the beginning, Rolf Carlé is determined to rescue the girl, to ‘‘snatch her from death.’’ But although she is trapped and can barely breathe, the girl does not struggle and does not seem desperate. She seems to know that she will die and to accept her fate. Some of her attitude may come from her Roman Catholic faith, which teaches that life and death are both gifts of God. Faith does not seem important to Carlé, who never mentions God or religion in his long talks with the girl, and he believes that he can defeat death.
Eventually, the adult man learns from and is consoled by the young girl. She teaches him to pray, and gradually he comes to accept her fate. When he leans over to kiss her goodbye, both are saved from despair, and they are figuratively ‘‘saved from the clay,’’ or from the bounds of life and the earth. A few hours later, Azucena dies, and her body literally sinks back into the clay. Through the story, she has been in the clay, above it, and below it. The title’s statement that ‘‘of clay are we created’’ holds out a promise that new life will be created from the same clay that took Azucena, and that the girl’s slipping into the clay is part of the cycle of life.