Praise of Suffering: Analytical Review of "And of Clay Are We Created"
“And of Clay Are We Created” is a part of a collection by Isabel Allende called “The Stories of Eva Luna,” the book published in 1985 and then translated from Spanish to English by Margaret Sayers Pedenis. In the book, Eva is a narrator who takes us into the life of different protagonist characters. She is like the 20th century’s Scheherazade who, by her power of creativity, tells stories of harsh realities and takes her audience deep down into each protagonist to feel what they feel at the moment of events.
“And of Clay Are We Created,” as part of the collection, follows almost the same pattern. The story is based on a real historical event, which happened in 1985. On November 14, the Nevado Del Ruiz volcano “erupted in the north-central part of Colombia.” The heat of the volcano “melted the sheets of ice, which caused the formation of large mudflows in the valleys” and killed more than 20,000 people. “When they could not recover the dead bodies, then declared the entire zone a cemetery” (Volcano erupts in…..).
Historically, there was a girl that seems to have had almost the same condition as Azucena. Her name was Omayra Sanchez, and she was “buried in mud up to her armpits in the rubble of her house and the bodies of her family” (De Zapata & Sayers, 76).
"And of Clay Are We Created" begins with this line, “They discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mudpit” (57). This is the beginning of a fight between life and death, between nature and human, between avoidance and acceptance, and between love and fear.
What the audience can expect from the first paragraph is a story about saving a life of a thirteen-year-old kid, but a few paragraphs later everything changes. The story continues with the conflict between Rolf Carle and his memories, which he has been hiding for many years. Allende, who has been called truly the Lady of Letters, takes her audience inside the event and touches their minds and souls by combining words.
The use of that style of storytelling here is very ambiguous. On one hand, the story is about death. “I chose stories of strong women, of marginal people, of violence, and death, and loss, and love, and friendship, because that’s what really has been important in my life” (George, We Are Big Idea….). Azucena dies, but there is a birth that comes from inside of Rolf Carle, the reporter who puts together all his effort to save Azucena’s life.
Allende (Eva) is describing a hopeless, dark and bitter scene, which is like a slap in the audience’s face. Then she starts to open the situation to the reader more with describing the circumstance that the girl is involved in. Azucena, in the middle of the volcanic eruption, is fighting for her life, and Carle suddenly decides to save her life, instead of doing his job as a reporter. Time and the environmental conditions are against him. He tries every possible act that can get the girl out of the situation, but it does not seem easy. “She was also held by the bodies of her brother and sisters clinging to her legs” (59). Her brother and sisters are symbols of her past that the author uses to attach the story to Carle.
Azucena is just an excuse to talk about 30 years of the missing life of Carl who had always avoided facing it. Azucena’s painful condition reminds Carle of his memories when he was almost the same age as she is.
Carle’s memories are filled with mortification, fear, and regret, like when he saw his mother naked during the all those dark days of the war in Europe, or being punished by his father because of misbehavior and having a retarded sister (61). Under the painful condition, he has, suddenly he is forced to think and face them rather than leaving them in the dark deep of his mind. In a way, he has to deal with the past that he is scared of, even temporarily, although this may affect his whole perspective of the future. On the other hand, this avoiding of the past has affected the narrator’s relationship with Carle.
It’s not unfair to say this is all about Carle and maybe is also about feelings that the narrator has for him. In all those hours, which are going so fast, Azucena is calm and her main concern is nobody told her “I love you” during all the short years of her life. “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. Carle 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” (62).
We are all buried in our own clay by something. This is the central idea that the author has covered all these emotional events. Carle is buried by his memories and he is afraid of facing them, and the narrator are buried by her pity and painful love; she is watching Carle every day and expecting to see that he is breaking the wall that he was hiding behind. His fear of change never let her open up until the disaster happened, not only outside as a volcanic eruption, but also inside of Carle.
He begins to observe, to remember to face with all the fear and humiliation, which he had avoided facing. Then he changes. Fear of an unknown situation is gone for both Carle and Eva and now they have to go through all these changes. “You are back with me, but you are not the same man” (63).
The story also is trying to show that despite the fact that people believe most of the time that they left the past behind, the truth is they did not, and they carry all the past on their shoulders for years and years until something happens, and then the past comes out as happened to Carle.
This also describes the theme of the story. It does not matter how far a person goes or how hard the individual tries; he/she cannot move on without dealing with his/her past. This theme centers around the main character, which is Carle. All happenings are just some facts that lead him to the painful past he had. He is the protagonist who fights to save Azucena’s life and to save himself from the pain that he has carried for many years. He is also a round character and readers get the chance, through the story, to know a lot about him.
Carle is a successful reporter, originally from Austria, who seems to have no fear and is thirsty with curiosity. “It seems nothing could shake his fortitude or deter his curiosity” (58). Opposed to Carle, the antagonist, is the time that here totally works against Carle. It seems time is going so fast that all connections that Carle and his girlfriend, Eva, are making to save the girl’s life are doomed to failure.
Characteristic of both the narrator and Azucena are flat and static. They do not change during the story and there is not much information about them. All that has been described [about them] are universals, and even their names are symbolic.
Azucena in English means Lily, and Lily means hope, faith, birth, remembrance, and transitioning. Azucena is a symbol, a magic flower, which grows from the mud and dies after three days. It is the flower that brings change, awareness and hope to the life of somebody who loves her and believes her. “The little girl obstinately clinging to life became the symbol of the tragedy” (57). This tragedy is not only the one that is caused by the volcanic eruption; the real tragedy comes after the girl dies. Then it begins. Maybe “begins” is not the right word here; maybe is better to say the tragedy already did exist for years and happened to a little boy, called Rolf Carle.
On the other hand, Eva Luna (name of the narrator) means life. “My name is Eva, which means 'life,' according to a book of names my mother consulted. I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of those things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory”(Allende, Eva Luna, 3).
Azucena surprisingly looks much stronger than Carle who is supposed to take care of her and save her life, but in the story, this role has been reversed. “’Don’t cry. I don’t hurt anymore. I’m fine,’ Azucena said when dawn came. ‘I’m not crying for you,’ Rolf Carle smiled. ‘I am crying for myself. I hurt all over’” (62).
Two kinds of conflicts apply to the story, character versus nature and character versus self. Although Carle has the advantage of the television helicopter, which makes him the first reporter present at the scene, he is not going to use this advantage for his own benefit or for the TV channel that he is working for. Instead, he spends his time fighting for the life of a girl whom he never knew before. The result of this fight for life against the volcanic eruption is a growth of beard and dark circles beneath his eyes. He looks very exhausted, but he never gives up until time and nature show him that they are stronger than he thinks, and the poor girl dies. That’s the time he leaves the girl to the hands of nature.
Also from another perspective, the girl is fighting to stay alive against the result of the volcanic eruption, which is going to bury her under the clay. This is the long and most exhausting fight she has to perform though she knows this story will not have a happy ending.
The conflict of Carle versus himself comes from the past, which he avoids thinking about. “He could watch events without actually participating in them” (58). This is the mask that he made for himself many years ago because he was too afraid of facing reality, but here he begins to see and this makes the conflict between the character he became and the character he is supposed to be. The real character of Carle, despite what the narrator describes, not only participates, but also gets involved even emotionally.
In following the universality, which has been provided by the story, the narrator does not give any specific date and location, which means the story, can happen anywhere. Even when it comes to the authorities, there are no names, for example of the national television or of the president of the republic that can lead us to any country.
“And of Clay Are We Created” finishes with hope. The narrator hopes the boyfriend will come back someday from the hell (in the narrator’s perspective), which he has made for himself after Azucena died. “I wait for you to complete the voyage into yourself, for the old wounds to heal” (63). Although she knows the change that happened to Carle has closed already all of the doors, and never can everything be as it was before. But anyway the story finishes when the audience sees the first light of dawn, which here means hope for tomorrow; this hope always exists and this is the reason every single person can continue life.
“And at this moment in her story, Scheherazade saw the first light of dawn, and discreetly fell silent” (Allende, The Stories of Eva Luna, 368).
Allende, Isabel. "And of Clay Are We Created." Short Fiction: Classic and Contemporary. By Charles H. Bohner and Lyman Grant. 6th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006. 57-63. Print.
Allende, Isabel. Eva Luna. New York: Knopf, 1988. Print.
Allende, Isabel. The Stories of Eva Luna. Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: Atheneum, 1991. Print.
Correas, De Zapata, Celia., and Margaret Sayers. Peden. Isabel Allende: Life and Spirits. Houston, TX: Arte Público, 2002. Print.
George, Priya. "We Are Big Idea Hunters…." Big Think. Big Think, 3 May 2010. Web. 09 June 2013.
“Volcano erupts in Colombia and buries nearby towns.” 2013. The History Channel website. Web. 09 Jun 2013, 11:05.