And of Clay Are We Created

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And of Clay Are We Created

Isabel Allende 1989

Author Biography

Plot Summary




Historical Context

Critical Overview



Further Reading

Unlike many novelists, Isabel Allende did not train as a fiction writer by creating short stories before moving on to novels. Her first three works of fiction were novels, and she did not turn to the short story form until readers of Eva Lunaasked to see the stories the title character refers to. “And of Clay Are We Created” was written specifically for the 1989 collection The Stories of Eva Luna.

The story is about a young girl who is trapped in a mudslide, and a reporter, Rolf Carle, who is sent in his television helicopter to cover her rescue. Unable to maintain his reporter’s objectivity, he joins in the unsuccessful rescue attempt, and then stays with the girl until she dies. As he talks with the girl over a period of days, Carle remembers and begins to address his own youthful suffering, which he has repressed for many years. At a further remove, the girl and the reporter are being watched on television by the narrator, Carle’s lover, who experiences the pain of both.

Allende has often spoken about “And of Clay Are We Created” and its importance to her. The characters of the television reporter and his lover are both based on Allende’s own experiences in journalism. In an interview with Marilyn Berlin Snell, she explains that the plot of the story is also based on fact: “This story really occurred. In 1985, we saw her on every television screen in the world, the face of Omaira Sanchez, one of the thousands of victims of Colombia’s Nevado Ruiz volcanic eruption. The black eyes of that girl have haunted me.... She is telling me something. She is talking to me about patience, about endurance, about courage.” Reviewers of The Stories of Eva Lunahave praised Allende’s ability to adapt historical events into fiction, as she does in “And of Clay Are We Created.”

Author Biography

Although she has traveled around the world, and has lived in the United States for more than a decade, Isabel Allende considers Latin America her true home, and sets her fiction there. She was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru, where her Chilean father held a diplomatic post. After her parents divorced, Allende and her siblings went to live with her mother’s parents in Santiago, Chile. She had no contact with her father for the rest of her life, but kept close ties to his family, including his cousin Salvador Allende, who became president of Chile in 1970.

As a child, Allende read eagerly and traveled widely. Her mother remarried, and the family lived in Bolivia, Europe, and the Middle East before returning to Chile when Allende was fifteen. Her life was rather ordinary for the next several years: she went to school, married, had two children, and worked as a journalist on television programs and documentaries, much like her character Eva Luna, the narrator of “And of Clay Are We Created.” Years later she credited her journalism experience with helping develop her skills as a storyteller. In 1973, Salvador Allende was murdered and the military took control of Chile’s government. For a time, Isabel Allende continued her journalism work and also worked secretly against the new government, but this became too dangerous and she moved to Caracas, Venezuela, in 1975.

Six years later, she received word from Chile that her grandfather was dying and sat down to write him a farewell letter. That letter eventually became her first novel, La casa de los espiritus (The House of the Spirits),1982. The novel traces three generations in a Latin American family, focusing on the women, and draws heavily on Allende’s own experiences. The House of the Spirits,like all of Allende’s fiction, was written in Spanish and translated by others into English and other languages. It has sold over six million copies in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, and it has made Allende an international literary star.

Allende’s second novel, a story of political killings in Chile, was De amory de sombra (Of Love and Shadows),1984. This was followed in 1987 by Eva Luna. Of all Allende’s characters, Eva Luna is most like her: a feminist, a journalist, and a storyteller. In fact, the character Eva Luna often refers to stories that she never tells; it was readers’ clamoring for those stories that led Allende to try her hand at short fiction and produce the volume Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna),1989, which includes “And of Clay Are We Created.” She has repeatedly stated since then that she finds short stories much more difficult to write than novels, and her subsequent books have been in the full-length novel or memoir forms.

Plot Summary

The story opens abruptly, with a startling line: “They discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mudpit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly.” As soon becomes clear, the girl is thirteen-year-old Azucena, one of thousands of villagers who lived on the slopes of a mountain in Latin America. A volcanic eruption has created enough heat to melt the ice on the mountain slopes, leading in turn to tremendous mudslides that have buried entire towns and killed more than twenty thousand people. The narrator, who is never named, watches pictures of the devastation on the television news, described by her lover, Rolf Carle, the first television reporter on the scene.

Carlé and his assistant film the first attempts to rescue the girl, but when volunteers are unable to throw a rope to her, he wades up to his waist in the mud to tie the rope under her arms himself. He smiles a charming smile and assures her that she will soon be out. But when the volunteers begin to pull on the rope, Azucena screams in pain; the mud has created such a strong suction around her that she cannot be pulled free. She can feel some kind of debris holding her legs, and while others suggest that it must be the rubble from her crushed house, she insists that it is the bodies of her dead brothers and sisters.

The narrator has watched Carle countless times as he has covered important stories, and she has always admired his ability to be strong and detached in the face of terrible events. This time, however, she can tell by watching his eyes and hearing his voice that his objectivity is slipping, and that he is responding emotionally to Azucena. The catch in his voice is one she has never heard before. Abandoning his task as a reporter, Carlé tries everything he can think of to get the girl free, but with no success. He manages to get a tire slipped under her shoulders so that she will not slip down any further in the mud. Finally he radios for a pump, with which he could drain the water around the girl, but none will be available until the next day. He stays beside the girl all night, giving her sips of coffee to warm her and telling her entertaining stories of his adventures to keep her calm.

Back in the city, the narrator keeps her watch, moving to the television station so that she can see Carlé’s satellite transmissions unedited. She phones all of the important government and business people she can think of to try to locate a pump and makes appeals on radio and television, but to no avail. Watching the screen, she feels Carle’s pain and frustration, and weeps for the girl. She sees that Carle has reached a kind of tiredness he has never reached before, and that he has “completely forgotten the camera.”

Meanwhile, the story has been picked up by other news agencies, and a crowd of reporters and cameras has surrounded Azucena and Carle, sending pictures of the girl to millions of people around the world. A doctor briefly examines the girl, and a priest blesses her, but no one in the crowd can do anything to help her. Although the area is littered with generators and lights and wires and other technical equipment for the television crews, no one can locate a pump.

As the second day closes, Azucena and Carlé are still together, talking quietly and praying. Carlé has run out of stories of his own, and turns first to the stories the narrator has told him, and then to Austrian folk songs he learned as a child. While he continues to talk to the girl, he remembers scenes from his youth that he has repressed for decades: burying bodies at a concentration camp, his father’s abuse, his retarded sister’s fear, his mother’s humiliation. He does not share these memories with the girl, but turns them over in his mind and examines them as he has never done before. He realizes that like Azucena he is trapped, and that his brave adventures have been a way to escape his fear. His experience with the girl has exposed him to feelings he has pushed aside, and he is closer to her emotionally than he has ever been to anyone else.

On the morning of the third day, Azucena andCarlé are both cold, hungry, and exhausted. The

president of the Republic comes to be filmed with the girl. He praises the girl for being “an example to the nation” and promises to personally send a pump. But it is too late. As she watches on the screen, the narrator can tell the precise moment when the girl and the reporter give up hoping for a rescue, the moment that they accept the inevitability of death. For both, it is a moment of peace; they stop struggling. The narrator has managed to locate a pump and arranged a way to ship it, but on the third night the girl dies. Carlé takes the tire away from under her arms, and she slips down under the mud.

The last scene of the story occurs afterCarlé has returned home. For some time he has not worked, but he has watched the film of himself and Azucena countless times, wondering what he might have done to help her. The narrator addresses him directly, assuring him that the wounds opened by his experience with the girl will heal in time.



Azucena, whose name translated into English would be “Lily,” is a girl who has been buried up to

Media Adaptations

  • The Stories of Eva Luna,the collection from which “And of Clay Are We Created” is taken, was recorded in 1991 by Elizabeth Peiia. The two-cassette set was produced by Dove Audio Books and is distributed by NewStar Media.

her neck in a mudslide. The rest of her village has been destroyed, and she says that the bodies of her dead brothers and sisters are holding her legs. As the story opens, the girl has just been found, and a rescue effort is underway. She has also been discovered by the national news media, and soon a crowd of television reporters comes to interview her on camera. While her story is broadcast around the world, she quietly talks with RolfCarlé, the first reporter on the scene, about her life. Although she is thirteen years old, she has never traveled outside her small Latin American village, and she has never known love. She does not understand that she is being featured on international television, nor does she understand why the president of the Republic himself comes to call her “an example to the nation.” After three days and nights trapped in the cold mud, she dies, and sinks away beneath the surface of the clay.


RolfCarlé is a middle-aged television reporter, the first reporter to reach Azucena’s side. He has gone to her to cover the dramatic story of her rescue, but, for the first time in his career, he is unable to maintain his professional objectivity. He joins and then leads the attempts to rescue the girl; he stays beside her for three days and nights to keep her calm. As the reporter and the girl talk,Carlé begins to remember long-repressed memories: folk songs from his native Austria, his abusive father, and how he and his retarded sister lived their lives in fear. Just as he realizes that he is trapped in his pain just as Azucena is trapped in the mud, he also realizes that the girl will not be rescued. Before she dies, he tells her how important she has been to him. As the story ends he is grieving for Azucena and for his own wasted youth. But confronting the girl’s death has shown him how to confront his pain and his healing has begun.

Female Narrator

The narrator (also known as Eva Luna) is RolfCarlé’s longtime lover, a woman who has many times said goodbye to him as he has gone off to cover important stories. Though she is never named in this story, readers of the entire collection from which the story is taken know that she is Eva Luna, a maker of television documentaries. As she watchesCarlé on television, she can tell that the girl has touched him in a new way. She can read every emotion in his face and begins to feel what he feels. For three days she watches every bit of coverage she can, stopping only to make phone calls, trying to locate a pump to help with the rescue. She believes that she andCarlé can communicate through the screen. She knows when he begins to confront his past, and to tell the child things he has never told her or anyone else. She knows when he and the girl finally accept the reality of death. And, as she reveals in the last paragraph of the story, the only one addressed toCarlé, she knows that when he has recovered from the painful experience, he will be stronger than ever before.



Eva Luna

SeeFemale Narrator.


Memory and Reminiscence

For RolfCarlé, 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.

Topics for Further Study

  • Find newspaper stories about the 1985 volcanic eruption of Colombia’s Nevado Ruiz Mountain, the September 1999 earthquake in Taiwan, or another large-scale natural disaster. Look especially for stories about individual children trapped and rescued. Do you think the reporters writing these stories respect their subjects or exploit them? How emotionally involved do these reporters allow themselves to become?
  • What can cause mudslides of the magnitude described in this story? Research the geography and the geology to find an explanation. What parts of the United States and Canada are subject to this danger?
  • Most students know about the concentration camps run by the Germans during World War II, but fewer know much about Russian camps. Investigate these Russian camps. Who was held in them? What were conditions like? What happened to Russia during and after the war?
  • Investigate the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings about humans being made from clay and returning to the clay after death—teachings that Azucena would have been exposed to. Find out about other cultures—there are many—that also have stories about the first human being created from clay.

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. WhenCarlé 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 completeCarlé 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, RolfCarlé 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 toCarlé, 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.


Point of View and Narration

Point of view is handled in an unusual way in “And of Clay Are We Created.” The narrator tells most of the story in the first person, and yet most readers would say that she operates only on the edges of the action—she is an observer more than she is an actor. While it is common for a narrator to relate events she has witnessed, rather than participated in, it is unusual to have a narrator who reports what she has seen on television. On the one hand, the narrator shares with millions of others the experience of watching Azucena and RolfCarlé on television; on the other hand, she has intimate knowledge ofCarlé and access to unedited transmissions, and these set her apart from the other viewers. The television screen brings her closer to the reporter and the girl, and yet she is separated from them by hundreds of miles.

The final section of the story is told by the same narrator, but she speaks directly toCarlé, using the second person point of view. Again, the point of view is unusual. The narrator is tellingCarlé things about himself that he surely already knows, recounting for him his recent actions and inactions, and there is no indication that he responds. Like the first-person point of view in the rest of the story, the point of view here creates an atmosphere that is at once intimate and distant. The narrator is physically close toCarlé now, but more distant emotionally than when she was watching him on television.

For Allende herself, point of view is one of the most important elements of “And of Clay We Are Created.” In an interview with Farhat Iftekharuddin, she explains that when she first tried to write the story she told it from “an intellectual point of view” and focused on the girl Azucena. She eventually came to feel that this point of view was not presenting the proper story, and that her focus should be not on the girl but onCarlé. She wrote another draft of the story from the reporter’s point of view, but found this unsatisfactory as well. Finally, she discovered that her focus should be on “the story of the woman who is watching through a screen the man who holds the girl,” and she rewrote the story yet again, this time using the point of view of the unnamed female narrator.


An epilogue is a concluding section to a literary work, one that adds to the main composition and rounds it off. It would be possible to think of “And of Clay Are We Created” as complete as soon as Azucena sinks “slowly, a flower in the mud.” If the story were concerned mainly with the girl or with the reporter, this would be a satisfying ending. But because Allende is concerned primarily with the development of the narrator throughout the story, she offers the final section, or epilogue, to bring the narrator back to center stage. The epilogue is set apart and dramatically different from the rest of the story: the time, the place, and even the point of view shift abruptly between the main story and the epilogue.

Dramatic Irony

As it is usually understood, dramatic irony is the contrast between what the characters in a story understand and the deeper understanding of the story’s readers. Several instances of dramatic irony shape “And of Clay Are We Created.” For example, it is ironic that a group of people who can assemble a tremendous collection of technical gear to show a trapped Azucena to the world cannot find a pump and get her out. With the exception of RolfCarlé, the media people themselves do not see the irony; there is no hint that they find the situation remarkable or frustrating. The reader, guided by the narrator who repeatedly mentions the pump and describes the maze of cables and machines, sees the absurdity that the characters themselves do not see. Another example of dramatic irony, which may or may not be seen by the narrator, is the fact that the narrator is closer emotionally toCarlé while she is watching him on television than she is when they are reunited. The effect of dramatic irony in this story is that the reader finds lessons in the story that the characters themselves do not see.

Historical Context

Latin America in the 1980s

Although the volcanic eruption on which “And of Clay Are We Created” is based occurred in Colombia in 1985, Allende does not specify the date and location in which the story is set. Like the rest of the collection The Stories of Eva Luna,the story is understood to take place somewhere in Latin America, sometime during the 1980s. The 1980s were a turbulent time for Latin America, the region encompassing approximately twenty nations in South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean where Romance languages are spoken.

Politically, Latin America was a region of great instability during this period. Many countries, including Argentina, Haiti, Panama, El Salvador, Grenada, and Guatemala, were under the control of repressive military dictators. In Colombia, armed guerillas challenged the government, which they accused of corruption, and were killed by the hundreds. Chile, Allende’s native country, was ruled from 1973 until 1989 by General Augusto Pinochet, chief executive of the country and head of the armed forces. Pinochet held onto his power by torturing, killing, or banishing thousands of Chileans who opposed him. Books and magazines that were considered unfavorable to the government were banned or burned, and their authors were punished.

The effects of this political turmoil have been significant for writers and for Latin-American literature. Allende learned about the Colombian disaster the same way Eva Luna learned about Azucena— by watching the television news. Allende was living in California at the time, having been forced into exile shortly after Pinochet took control of the country by murdering Allende’s uncle, Chilean President Salvador Allende. Her greatest novel, The House of the Spirits,is in part about the political situation in Chile, yet she wrote it while living in Venezuela. Similarly, other great Latin-American writers have produced important work while in exile. Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about Colombia while living in Mexico. Mario Vargas Llosa wrote about Peru from exile in Paris. Other writers have shared their fate, writing about homelands in struggle and homelands they could not return to.

The Boom and After

The period roughly covering the 1960s and the first part of the 1970s is often referred to as “The Boom” in Latin-American literature. Previously, Latin-American writing, particularly novels, resembled the European works on which they were patterned. During the Boom, writers including Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, and Mario Vargas Llosa experimented with new dramatic forms specifically intended to reflect a Latin-American consciousness. Garcia Marquez in particular became known for “magical realism,” a combination of realism and fantasy through which fantastical events are narrated in calm, expressionless prose, as though the narrator had no idea that anything unexpected was occurring. Boom writers were overtly political, reflecting the shifting perceptions and instability of Latin American political and social life, and they were predominantly male.

Allende’s early fiction is sometimes compared with the magical realism of Garcia Marquez, but The Stories of Eva Lunareflects the writing of the post-Boom generation. The writers of this period include many women, and their writing is less political. The new works also tend to be less dense than works from the Boom, intentionally more accessible to the general reader rather than only the intellectual elite. They feature characters from a wide spectrum of social classes, and frequently focus on themes of love and relationships, and on issues facing women.

Critical Overview

Criticism about Allende’s works has focused on the novels, especially on The House of the Spirits,her first novel, usually considered to be her best. Although most critics admired the magical realism and the passion of The House of the Spiritsand found a new authentic voice in Allende’s writing, some complained that the novel was an inferior imitation of the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature. The debate over Garcia Marquez’s influence and Allende’s talent continued through the

Compare & Contrast

  • 1985: The eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in central Colombia kills more than 22,000 people and destroys more than 5,000 buildings. A large area is covered in mud and ash, making rescue of survivors nearly impossible.

    1990s: Colombia continues to be subject to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, but none causes devastation equal to the Nevado del Ruiz eruption.

  • 1980s: There is a large gap between the poorest citizens of many Latin-American countries and the wealthiest citizens. Many of the wealthiest citizens are educated Europeans like RolfCarlé, while the poorest tend to be of native or African descent.

    1990s: As in the United States, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen in Latin America. Colombia and other countries experience significant economic growth, but the pattern of income distribution means that poverty actually increases.

  • 1980s: The average per capita income in Colombia is nearly $1000, among the highest of the Latin-American countries.

    1990s: The average per capita income in Colombia is $1,650. The per capita income in the United States is over $22,000.

  • 1980s: In Colombia, over ninety percent of the citizens are Roman Catholic, a religion established there by European conquerors in the 1500s. Nearly ninety percent of Chileans are Roman Catholic. The numbers are similar for other Latin-American countries.

    1990s: Approximately ninety-five percent of Colombians are Roman Catholic, and ninety percent of all Latin Americans are Roman Catholic. Latin Americans who practice indigenous religions increasingly organize and work for official recognition.

  • 1980s: Many South American nations have autocratic governments led by military regimes and military dictators.

    1990s: The South American countries are led by democratically elected presidents. Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, forced out in 1989, is the last of the South American military dictators.

discussion of her next two novels, Of Love and Shadowsand Eva Luna.

Another issue for critics has been Allende’s feminism. She has been heralded for her strong feminine voice, but criticized for turning her male characters into stereotypes of traditional machismo and for creating women characters who desire dangerous or otherwise inappropriate men. The third major issue for Allende critics has been her status as a Latin-American writer, the label she prefers for herself. Although there is no formal criticism of “And of Clay Are We Created” other than mentions in reviews of The Stories of Eva Luna,these critical issues all surface repeatedly.

The foremost American critic of Allende’s work is Patricia Hart, author of Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende (1989). In a review of the short stories, which she deems less successful than the novels, Hart finds three key elements: “lush, hyperbolic reality, a female sensibility and some none-too-subtle parodying of male stars of the Boom.” Hart insists that Allende does not imitate Boom writers, but mocks them, turning their style to her own purposes. On the other hand, Suzanne Ruta’s review reveals genuine irritation with Allende’s echoes of the Boom, stating, “It’s Allende’s glib, sentimental treatment .. . and her cutesy allusions to other writers’ inventions, that I dislike.”

Critics have also divided over how well Allende handles the short story form. Louise Bernikow praises Allende’s unique voice, drawing special attention to the stories’ sense of place and visual imagery. In Bernikow’s judgment, Allende “has only gotten better from one book to the next.” Eleanor Bader finds the collection “touching, provocative, and entertaining,” and the character ofCarlé “memorable and captivating.” Other reviewers were disappointed by The Stories of Eva Luna,feeling the short stories were too often melodramatic. Some observe that the short form did not give Allende room to create the rich characters and complex plots for which she had drawn praise. Dan Cryer describes the stories in the collection as “entertaining as long as you don’t think much about them,” and finds the plotting “energetic but given to soap opera.”

Allende herself has admitted that she finds writing short stories much more difficult than writing novels, and less conducive to the “embroidery” she uses to steer and embellish her writing. Interviewed by Farhat Iftekharuddin she commented, “I would much rather write a thousand pages of a long novel than a short story. The shorter, the more difficult it is.”

Although he judges the short stories as “some of [Allende’s] finest work,” Daniel Harris questions the author’s political stance and her authenticity as a Latin-American writer. He describes her as “a gifted opportunist” who “shamelessly sentimentalizes the droll aborigines of primitive society,” and “ransacks South America as if it were an insipid cache of folksiness.” The risk in this stance, he explains, is that the horrors and atrocities described in the stories become mere clichés.

Although critics have not always been kind to Allende, the reading public has embraced her work enthusiastically. The House of the Spirits,originally written in Spanish as is all of Allende’s work, has been translated into dozens of languages. It has sold over six million copies around the world, and been made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Her subsequent books have also sold well, making her the most well-known and widely read female Latin-American writer in history.


Cynthia Bily

Bily teaches writing and literature at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, and writes for a variety of educational publishers. In the following essay, she looks at the development of the narrator in “And of Clay Are We Created.”

Isabel Allende’s “And of Clay Are We Created” is the last story in her only collection of short stories, The Stories of Eva Luna. All of the twenty-three stories in the collection are narrated by Eva Luna, who was also the title character of Allende’s third novel. Luna tells the stories while in bed with her lover, RolfCarlé, drawing her inspiration from Scheherazade, who in the Arabian Nightssaves her sister’s life and her own by telling stories for a thousand and one nights. Readers who come to “And of Clay Are We Created” having already read Eva Lunaand the rest of the short stories will understand all of this before they begin. They will be familiar with the characters Luna andCarlé and the relationship between them, and they will know the value Luna places on stories and storytelling.

For readers who encounter the story away from the context of the collection, however, the reading experience is a very different one. These readers do not know the name of the narrator, or that she is a writer of television dramas, or that she is a person to whomCarlé said, “You think in words; for you, language is an inexhaustible thread you weave as if life were created as you tell it.” For these readers, it would be easy to ignore the narrator and to focus instead on the dramatic story of Azucena, the girl trapped in the mud, and the television reporter RolfCarlé who tries to rescue her. The narrator’s narration, certainly, focuses onCarlé and the changes he undergoes through his experience with the girl. Any mentions by the narrator of her own reactions and emotions are intended to help her audience understand her lover’s ordeal.

Allende, however, has spoken frequently about her intentions for the story. For her, the story is about “the woman who is watching through a screen the man who holds the girl. This filter of the screen creates an artificial filter and terrible distance but also a terrible proximity because you see details that you would not see if you were actually there. And so, the story is about the change in the woman who watches the man holding the girl who is dying.” If this is true (and we must give Allende credit for insight into her own work), what isthe change in the narrator throughout “And of Clay Are We Created,” as it can be observed by a reader of this story alone? If the story is meant to demonstrate what happens to a woman watching her lover from afar, what does it ultimately reveal?

What Do I Read Next?

  • The Stories of Eva Luna (1991) is Allende’s first collection of short fiction. Like Scheherazade, Eva Luna presents twenty-three interwoven stories to her lover RolfCarlé, the male protagonist of “And of Clay Are We Created.”
  • The House of the Spirits (1985) is Allende’s first novel. Three generations of a Latin-American family find strength through political and emotional struggle.
  • Leaf Storm and Other Stories (1972) is by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In seven interwoven stories, wonderful and impossible things happen to the citizens of the Latin-American village of Macondo. Garcia Marquez, a master of “magical realism,” is the author with whom Allende is most frequently compared.
  • A Hammock Beneath the Mangoes: Stories from Latin America (1992), edited by Thomas Colchie, is a collection of stories by twenty-six Latin-American authors, organized by country. Includes work by Allende, Garcia Marquez, and Jorge Luis Borges, and also by newer and less well-known writers.

WhenCarlé leaves to cover the story, neither he nor the narrator understands what is to come. The narrator reports that she “had no presentiments.” Carlé has often been the first on the scene, and has covered dramatic and dangerous stories before “with awesome tenacity.” The narrator has watched him on television many times, and admired the way nothing seems to touch him or frighten him. She has learned over the years that his reporter’s objectivity is really a protective mechanism that shields him from his own emotions. Knowing how unemotional he tries to hold himself, the narrator reacts strongly to the sound of his resolve slipping when he promises Azucena he will get her out: “I could hear his voice break, and I loved him more than ever.”

UntilCarlé’s objectivity starts to give way, the narrator feels herself to be a part of the large audience watching him. Twice she refers to herself as part of the “we” who seeCarlé and the girl on the screen. But after he begins to change his stance, her own changes as well. Now she moves from her home to the television studio, to be “near his world,” and she refers to herself as his partner instead of as his audience. She has overheard his plea for a pump, and goes on radio and television “to see if there wasn’t someonewho could help us.” Now the “us” she belongs to isCarlé and herself.

Ironically, the television screen both emphasizes the distance between the two and brings them closer together—at least, it brings the narrator close toCarlé, who is not thinking of her. It is a one-way closeness. Though the reporter surely knows that his lover will be watching on television for any sign he might send her, he has “completely forgotten the camera.” Yet she feels the child’s pain, andCarlé’s frustration, and believes that she is “there with him.” She tries the “frenzied and futile” gesture of sending him encouragement through mental telepathy. By the end of the first morning, she is reduced to tears and emotionally drained. On the second day the sensation is stronger: “I had the horrible sensation that Azucena and Rolf were by my side, separated from me by impenetrable glass.” She can see them, but they cannot see her. She feels what they feel, but they are unaware of her.

On the morning of the third day, the narrator can see that “something fundamental” has changed inCarlé. “The girl has touched a part of him that he himself had no access to, a part he had never shared with me.” The generous and loving part of the narrator is glad to see this change, but one wonders whether there is some jealousy whenCarlé assures the girl that he loves her “more than all the women who had slept in his arms, more than he loved me, his life companion.” There is more than compassion in the narrator’s heart when she says that she “would have given anything to be trapped in that well in her place.”

Although there is hardly enough evidence in this brief story to lead to an informed opinion about two human hearts, the relationship between the narrator and RolfCarlé (she nearly always refers to him by his first and last name) seems unbalanced, as though the woman has no other purpose in her life other than to make things easier for the man—as though she is always watching him through a screen while he is unaware of her. When he is called away before dawn to cover the story of the mudslide, the narrator gets up to fix coffee while he packs, and they say goodbye as they always do. Once he is gone, she seems to be lost, a woman with nothing else to do even for one day: “I sat in the kitchen, sipping my coffee and planning the long hours without him, sure that he would be back the next day.”

Of course, he is not back the next day, nor the day after that. The narrator, with no children to attend to, or friends to worry with, spends the time at the National Television studio because she cannot “bear the wait at home.” She has “often spent entire nights” with her lover there, helping him with his work. At the end of the story, whenCarlé has returned to her, she seems to have no responsibilities or desires other than to accompany him to the station to watch the videos again and again, and to stay beside him waiting as he sits “long hours before the window, staring at the mountains.”

Carle has passed through hell and back and is, the narrator believes, in the process of becoming more open and mature emotionally. The narrator sees this, telling him, “You are back with me, but you are not the same man.” Are there ways in which the narrator is not the same woman as she was before? The changes are, at best, subtle, hard to see. Although clearly she has experienced a range of strong emotions throughout the ordeal, she does not seem to have taken much away from her experience of seeing her relationship reflected in the glass of the television screen. IfCarlé has expanded his own vision of how he might live his life, the narrator seems to be satisfied with the status quo. Her wish in the final line is the rather bleak hope that “we shall again walk hand in hand, as before” (italics mine).

Critic Suzanne Ruta, commenting on the full collection of The Stories of Eva Luna,explains that through the telling of her stories toCarlé, Luna is “trying to help him break free of the cool, distant

“For her, the story is about ’the woman who is watching through a screen the man who holds the girl. This filter of the screen creates an artificial filter and terrible distance but also a terrible proximity because you see details that you would not see if you were actually there. And so, the story is about the change in the woman who watches the man holding the girl who is dying.”

persona he’s made for himself.” The framework of “a troubled man and his helpful lover” gives structure to the collection, and leads naturally to “And of Clay Are We Created,” in which “Scheherazade falls silent, acknowledging the limits of her power.” For readers of this one story alone, there is no hint that the narrator’s stories are intended to helpCarlé, or that she feels herself to have a strength he does not have. Rather than presenting a woman who under extraordinary circumstances reaches the limits of her power, the story seems to present a woman with no power of her own.

Source: Cynthia Bily, in an essay for Short Stories for Students,Gale Group, 2001.

Liz Brent

Brent has a Ph.D. in American Culture, specializing in film studies, from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance writer and teaches courses in the history of American cinema. In the following essay, Brent discusses narration, point-of-view, and the theme of intimacy and distance, in Allende ’s story.

The short story “And of Clay Are We Created” by Isabel Allende is written from the perspective of a

woman whose “life companion,” RolfCarlé, a TV news journalist, has been sent on an assignment to a South American country to cover a catastrophic avalanche which has just taken place. The story is told from the first-person point of viewof the narrator, as she learns only from television news coverage of RolfCarlé’s experiences at the site of the catastrophe. While there, he comes to the aid of a thirteen-year-old girl, Azucena, whose body is trapped up to her neck in mud. RolfCarlé quickly drops his journalistic duties to attempt to rescue and to console the girl over a period of three days, until she dies, still trapped in the mud. In the process, the tragic situation of Azucena, and the compassion of the reporter who stays by her side, becomes an international media event. The narrator is thus able to learn of her lover’s experience only through television broadcasts of the event. In the following essay, I discuss the relationship between the narrator and her far-away companion, RolfCarlé, as experienced from her limited perspective on his life-changing experience, which occurs thousands of miles away from her.

“And of Clay Are We Created” is published in Allende’s collection entitled The Stories of Eva Luna. Although it is a book of short stories, each one is based on the fictional character of Eva Luna, who appeared in Allende’s novel Eva Luna. Thus, although the narrator of this short story is not named, the collection as a whole indicates that she is Eva Luna. A “Prologue” to the collection is written by the fictional character RolfCarlé, Eva Luna’s lover and “life companion.” This “Prologue” is written from the second-person point of view,meaning that the narrator, RolfCarlé, addresses his narrative to “you”—in this case, Eva Luna. RolfCarlé describes a scene of passionate lovemaking between himself and Eva Luna. He represents the experience as one of intense emotional closeness that also allows for the experience of temporary emotional distance. He says that “We were too close to see one another, each absorbed in our urgent rite, enveloped in our shared warmth and scent.” The idea that the lovers are “too close to see one another,” implies that such intense intimacy involves a loss of perspective. He goes on to describe the experience of their lovemaking as one in which the lovers are so close that they experience solitude and distance from one another, which leads them back into a state of physical and emotional intimacy: “In the final instant we glimpsed absolute solitude, each lost in a blazing chasm, but soon we returned from the far side of that fire to find ourselves embraced amid a riot of pillows beneath white mosquito netting.” This description portrays a relationship in which moments of emotional distance—“each lost in a blazing chasm”—are an integral element of the experience of emotional intimacy—“too close to see one another.” He goes on to compare his experience of their relationship to that of a spectator looking at a photograph or painting of two lovers. He says that, “From an indefinite distance I am looking at the picture, which includes me.” This continues the theme that their relationship is one characterized by both intimacy and distance, the distance reinforcing the experience of intimacy, and the intimacy allowing each the freedom to embark on their own solitary emotional “voyage.” He continues that’ T am spectator and protagonist”; As “protagonist” he experiences the painting, or the relationship, intimately, while as “spectator,” he experiences the painting or relationship with a certain degree of distance. He goes on to describe the experience as one in which he simultaneously feels bonded with his lover, and alone, both close and distant: “I am there with you but also here, alone, in a different frame of consciousness.”

The theme of a relationship built on the simultaneous experience of intimacy and distance, union and solitude, at the emotional, psychological, and physical level, as put forth in the “Prologue,” sheds light on a parallel theme in the final short story of the collection, “And of Clay Are We Created.” Throughout the story, the narrator, Eva Luna, bridges the temporary physical distance between herself and RolfCarlé through drawing on the ongoing emotional and psychological bond between the two of them.

The narrator describes her experience of RolfCarlé’s preparations for leaving on the assignment in terms which indicate that the two routinely experience brief geographical separations throughout a relationship, which is otherwise characterized by togetherness. She explains that “When the station called before dawn, RolfCarlé and I were together.” Once he has prepared to leave, “we said goodbye, as we had so many times before.” She is both used to these routine and brief separations, and used to his subsequent returns; after he leaves for the assignment, she “sat in the kitchen, sipping my coffee and planning the long hours without him, sure that he would be back the next day.”

“Throughout the story, the narrator, Eva Luna, bridges the temporary physical distance between herself and RolfCarlé through drawing on the ongoing emotional and psychological bond between the two of them.”

A third-person,objective, journalistic, sometimes scientific, point-of-view is utilized by the narrator in reporting the factual events surrounding the avalanche. This creates a feeling of great distance between the narrator and the faraway catastrophe, as if reading of it in the newspaper: “Geologists had set up their seismographs weeks before and knew that the mountain had awakened again. For some time they had predicted that the heat of the eruption could detach the eternal ice from the slopes of the volcano, but no one heeded their warnings. ... The towns in the valley went about their daily life, deaf to the moaning of the earth, until that fateful Wednesday night in November when a prolonged roar announced the end of the world, and walls of snow broke loose, rolling in an avalanche of clay, stones, and water that descended on the villages and buried them beneath unfathomable meters of telluric vomit.” She goes on to report that the assessment of the “magnitude of the cataclysm” included the calculation that “beneath the mud lay more than twenty thousand human beings and an indefinite number of animals,” dead and decaying. Furthermore, “Forests and rivers had also been swept away, and there was nothing to be seen but an immense desert of mire.”

Because all of the information the narrator receives about her lover’s experience is gained through watching national television broadcasts of the disaster, she describes much of her experience of this reportage in the first person plural. Thus, although she is observing the experience of someone with whom she is personally intimate, she aligns her own perspective with that of the mass audience of TV news spectators, describing the experience as that of a collective “we.” She explains that “We watched on our screens the footage captured by his assistant’s camera, in which he was up to his knees in muck, a microphone in his hand, in the midst of a bedlam of lost children, wounded survivors, corpses, and devastation. The story came to us in his calm voice.” However, even while watching him on TV, the narrator experiences the national broadcasts from the perspective of her intimate knowledge of RolfCarlé: “He smiled at [the girl trapped in the mud] with that smile that crinkles his eyes and makes him look like a little boy.” Even via poor television transmission, broadcast from thousands of miles away, the narrator notices intimate details of RolfCarlé’s emotional state, and experiences increased love and intimacy with him:‘“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of here,’ Rolf promised. Despite the quality of the transmission, I could hear his voice break, and I loved him more than ever.”

Eva Luna also describes RolfCarlé’s thoughts during his three days spent by the side of the little girl. The narrator could only have obtained this information from RolfCarlé himself, having told her about his own experience of the event, once he had returned home: “RolfCarlé, buoyed by a premature optimism, was convinced that everything would end well... Azucena would be transported by helicopter to a hospital where she would recover rapidly and where he could visit her and bring her gifts. He thought, She’s already too old for dolls, and I don’t know what would please her; maybe a dress. I don’t know much about women, he concluded, amused, reflecting that although he had known many women in his lifetime, none had taught him these details.”

Eva Luna experiences her relationship with RolfCarlé as both geographically distant, and emotionally intimate. Her only contact with her lover is via the impersonal and public avenue of the television broadcast: “Many miles away, I watched RolfCarlé and the girl on a television screen.” However, even at this level of remove, she gets as close to him as possible by watching him on the TV screen from the station where he works:’ T could not bear to wait at home, so I went to National Television, where I often spent entire nights with Rolf editing programs.” This allows her to more intimately experience his feelings, although she has no direct contact with him: “There, I was near his world, and I could at least get a feeling of what he lived through during those three decisive days.” Although her only con-tact with him is via the TV screen, she is able to bridge the geographical distance between them through their ongoing emotional intimacy with one another, and live through his experience at this emotional level: “The screen reduced the disaster to a single plane and accentuated the tremendous distance that separated me from RolfCarlé; nonetheless, I was there with him. The child’s every suffering hurt me as it did him; I felt his frustration, his impotence.” She attempts to further bridge the distance between herself and her lover via some form of mental telepathy: “Faced with the impossibility of communicating with him, the fantastic idea came to me that if I tried, I could reach him by force of mind and in that way give him encouragement. I concentrated until I was dizzy—a frenzied and futile activity.” She is able to maintain her emotional empathy for RolfCarlé’s experience, to the degree that she “would be overcome with compassion and burst out crying.” Yet she cannot completely overcome the tremendous distance which remains between what RolfCarlé is experiencing at the site of the disaster and what she experiences from watching it on TV thousands of miles away: “at other times, I was so drained I felt as if I were staring through a telescope at the light of a star dead for a million years.” At this point, she experiences the distance at an exaggerated level: he seems to her to be not just on another continent, but on another star far out in the universe. This exaggeration causes her to feel removed from him by time, as well as by distance, looking at “the light of a star dead for a million years.” These exaggerated feelings include the image of her lover, like the star, as long dead, and therefore much less accessible to her. Nonetheless, “even from that enormous distance,” she can “sense” his private emotional state based on what she sees via national TV broadcast: “RolfCarlé had a growth of beard, and dark circles beneath his eyes; he looked near exhaustion. Even from that enormous distance I could sense the quality of his weariness, so different from the fatigue of other adventures.”

When equipment is brought in to produce “sharper pictures and clearer sound” on the television broadcasts, Eva Luna is brought into that much more intimate contact with her lover’s experience: “the distance seemed suddenly compressed.” Yet, while brought that much closer to the event via TV broadcast, she maintains the feeling of “impenetrable” separation from RolfCarlé:’ T had the horrible sensation that Azucena and Rolf were by my side, separated from me by impenetrable glass.” With this increased quality in the broadcasting, she is at least able to experience more fully RolfCarlé’s actions throughout the incident: “I was able to follow events hour by hour; I knew everything my love did to wrest the girl from her prison and help her endure her suffering.” Hearing only “fragments” of his conversation with the girl, Eva Luna knows him well enough to “guess the rest” of what he has said to her.

Try as he might, RolfCarlé is unable to rescue the girl from the mud, and in the end can only console her. Eva Luna’s emotional connection to him is so strong that, just based on what she sees him doing via TV broadcast, she intuits an almost magical knowledge of the consequences of this experience for RolfCarlé’s emotional life: “I, glued to the screen like a fortune-teller to her crystal ball, 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. The girl had touched a part of him that he himself had no access to, a part he had never shared with me. Rolf had wanted to console her, but it was Azucena who had given him consolation.” From this great geographical distance, Eva Luna “recognized the precise moment at which Rolf gave up the fight and surrendered to the torture of watching the girl die.” In spite of the distance, Eva Luna experiences herself as having bridged the gap between herself and her lover, feeling herself to be fully experiencing what he and the girl are experiencing together. She says “I was with them, three days and two nights, spying on them from the other side of life.”

However, when RolfCarlé returns home from this life-changing experience, the geographical distance between the two lovers is finally bridged, but an emotional distance has developed. Eva Luna, addressing RolfCarlé directly through second-person narrative address, tells him, “You are back with me, but you are not the same man.” The experience has caused him to emotionally withdraw from his lover, embarking on a “voyage” deep within himself. Eva Luna remains physically close to him, “beside you,” waiting for his emotional “return” to their former intimacy, “walking hand in hand.” In the final words of the story, she tells him, “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.” As in the “Prologue,” the second-person narrative address to “you” reaffirms the long-term intimacy between the two lovers, despite this temporary emotional distance.

“And of Clay Are We Created” is characterized by a shifting narrative point-of-view and address, which captures the experience of simultaneous intimacy and distance experienced throughout the relationship of the two lovers. The “Prologue” to the story collection describes a pair of lovers who are so physically and emotionally intimate that their lovemaking allows them the freedom to “glimpse absolute solitude, each lost in a blazing chasm,” and yet” soon return to the far side of that fire,” and find themselves in an intimate lovers’ embrace. The use of second-person address in the prologue—RolfCarlé addressing his lover directly as “you”— increases the feeling of intimacy between them, as if inviting the reader into the fold of their relationship. The narration of the story “And of Clay Are We Created” describes the experience of emotional intimacy between the two lovers, despite great geographical distance and contact limited to that of a national television broadcast. The final paragraph describes the lover, returned home from this life-changing experience, to find himself emotionally distant from his “life companion,” despite their physical proximity. The relationship, however, is one that thrives on such fluctuations between intimacy and distance, be it geographical or emotional, and always maintains the promise of renewed closeness, the assurance that, whatever the current distance between them, “we shall again walk hand in hand, as before.”

Source: Liz Brent, in an essay for Short Stories for Students,Gale Group, 2001.

Ruth Behar

In the following excerpt, Behar examines Allende’s inspiration for writing” And of Clay Are We Created.”

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

Source: Ruth Behar, “In the House of the Spirits,” in The Women’s Review of Books,Vol. XIII, No. 2, November, 1995, p. 8.


Allende, Isabel, Prologue to The Stories of Eva Luna,translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, Bantam, 1991, p. 4.

Bader, Eleanor J., Review of The Stories of Eva Luna,in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women,Vol. 6, No. 3, Spring, 1991, p. 60.

Bernikow, Louise, Review of The Stories of Eva Luna,in Cosmopolitan,Vol. 210, No. 1, January 1991, p. 22.

Cryer, Dan, “Unlucky in Love in Latin America,” in Newsday,January 21, 1991, p. 46.

Gautier, Marie-Lise Gazarian, Interviews with Latin American Writers,Dalkey Archive Press, 1989, p. 8.

Harris, Daniel, Review of The Stories of Eva Luna,in Boston Review,Vol. 16, No. 2, April, 1991, pp. 28-29.

Hart, Patricia, “BoomTimes-II,” in Nation,Vol. 252, No. 9, March 11, 1991, p. 315.

Iftekharuddin, Farhat, “Writing to Exorcise the Demons” [Interview with Allende], in Speaking of the Short Story,edited by Farhat Iftekharuddin, Mary Robrberger, and Maurice Lee, University Press of Mississippi, 1997, pp. 1-26; reprinted in Conversations with Isabel Allende,edited by John Rodden, University of Texas Press, 1999, pp. 353-54.

Ruta, Suzanne, “Lovers and Storytellers,” in Women’s Review of Books,Vol. 8, No. 9, June, 1991, p. 10.

Snell, Marilyn Berlin, “The Shaman and the Infidel” [Interview with Allende], New Perspectives Quarterly,Vol. 8, Winter, 1991, p. 57.

Further Reading

Allende, Isabel, “Writing As an Act of Hope,” in Paths of Resistance: The Art and Craft of the Political Novel,edited by William Zinsser, Houghton Mifflin, 1989, pp. 39-63.

Allende describes the violence, poverty, and beauty of Latin America, and explains that storytelling is the best medium for communicating its truths. “I write,” she reveals, “so that people will love each other more.”

de Carvalho, Susan, “Escrituras y Escritoras:The Artist-Protagonist of Isabel Allende,” in Discurso Literario,Vol. 10, No. 1,1992, pp. 59-67.

An essay examining the character of Eva Luna, and how she uses storytelling as a means of self-examination. Although this essay refers to the novel Eva Luna,its insights may be profitably applied to the narrator of “And of Clay Are We Created.”

Leonard, Kathy S., ed., Index to Translated Short Fiction by Latin-American Women in English Language Anthologies,Greenwood, 1997.

An excellent guide through the dozens of anthologies that include, as the title indicates, English translations of short stories by Latin-American women. Useful for locating works by Allende, and also for finding available works by her peers.

Rodden, John, ed., Conversations with Isabel Allende,University of Texas Press, 1999.

An extensive collection of interviews from various literary journals, originally published in English or translated from Spanish, German, and Dutch. The volume includes an index and annotated bibliography.

Rojas, Sonia Riquelme, and Edna Aguirre Rehbien, eds., Critical Approaches to Isabel Allende’s Novels,Peter Lang, 1991.

Although it deals only with Allende’s first three novels, this collection reveals and explores the central critical issues in her fiction. The essays are in English and in untranslated Spanish. The Introduction, in English, is an excellent overview of the biographical and political sources of Allende’s major themes.

Shaw, Donald Leslie, The Post-Boom in Spanish American Fiction,State University of New York Press, 1998.

An analysis of Latin-American literature produced since the mid-1970s following the “Boom,” a period that saw an explosion of internationally important works by Latin-American writers. Works written after the Boom tend to be more concerned with contemporary Latin-American society, especially with working-class and middle-class characters.