AND OFF CLAY ARE WE CREATED
The story’s first line, “They discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mud pit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly,” not only begins the action and sets the story but also establishes the theme. The last sentence of the paragraph foreshadows the ending: Rolf Carle…never suspecting that he would find a fragment of his past, lost thirty years ago.
Rolf finds that the girl, Azucena, enables him to close the gap between his experiences and his feelings so he can confront it. Azucena is one of twenty thousand victims of a volcanic eruption that has cleared out an entire Latin American village. Rolf, who makes television documentaries, arrives first on the scene filming the volunteers trying to reach the girl, who is buried up to her neck in quicksand like mud. Within minutes, the girl’s situation is broadcast throughout the world.
Rolf remains by her side. Throughout the night he tells stories of his adventures as a newsman to keep up her courage. Miles away, the narrator, Eva Luna, watches television and feels the pain of both Azucena and Rolf. She tries to get a pump sent to the site, but her efforts are pointless. She even tries to help Rolf through her “force of mind.”
Later she watches the morning broadcast. Situation has gotten worse, but Rolf, still tries to keep the girl’s spirits up. More cameras and equipment arrive, and the worldwide focus on the young girl intensifies, making the scene so real to Eva that she imagines herself by their side using her love to help them.
On the second night, Rolf begins to talk about his life. He begins by talking about the concentration camps in Germany, he goes back even further to recall how he was abused in his childhood by an evil father and his guilt about the fate of his retarded sister. As he finishes, he is in tears, ironically consoled by the dying Azucena.
The president arrives in the morning, and he stands in front of the buried child to face the cameras. Eva recalls the moment when, despite the president’s promises of help, the two give up hope. They accept the things that cannot be changed. On the night of the third day, with the cameras focused upon her, the girl dies.
Returning to Eva, Rolf is a changed person. He has set aside his cameras. Now able to see things clearly, he needs time to heal his own wounds just as mud needs time to cover the surface of the Earth. The story ends with a connection to the beginning sentence.
A CLEAN WELL – LIGHTED PLACE
It opens with an old man sitting on the terrace of a Spanish café late at night. Two waiters, one older and one younger, keep an eye on him to ensure he does not get too drunk and leave without paying. They discuss how the old man attempted suicide the week before, with one claiming that it must have been over nothing since the man has “plenty of money.” As one waiter expresses concern that a guard will get the old man for staying out on the street, the old man orders another brandy. The younger waiter, who wants to go home, grudgingly pours the deaf old fellow another glass, suggesting aloud that the man should have killed himself. He talks with the other waiter about how the old man tried to hang himself and was cut down in time by his niece. The two agree that he must be eighty years old. The younger waiter argues that a wife would be no use to a man that age, while the older waiter is not so certain and expresses admiration for how neatly the old man drinks even while intoxicated.
When the old man tries to order yet another brandy, the younger waiter refuses, talking down to him. The old man pays for his drinks, leaves a tip and walks out of the café with all the dignity he can muster. The older waiter says that it is not that late and that they could have let him drink longer. The waiters argue about the value of time, and the older one compares their situations in life. He claims that his younger co-worker benefits from youth and confidence. But as an older man, he prefers to stay late at the café because someone may need to be there. The younger waiter argues that there are plenty of other places for people to go. But the older waiter points out how “clean” and “well-lighted” this café is.
After the two waiters bid each other good night, the older one contemplates a sense of nothingness that he often feels. He recites a parody of the Lord’s Prayer that repeats the Spanish word “nada,” meaning “nothing.” He gets a little coffee at a nearby bar but does not like the atmosphere. He decides to go home to his room, although he knows he will not get to sleep, blaming this on insomnia and reckoning that others must suffer the same.
The main themes in “And of Clay Are We Created” are the fragility of life, the fearful power of nature, and the determination of the human spirit. For Rolf Carle, 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. 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 Carle 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.
In the story, the devastation caused by the volcanic eruption reinforces the fragility of life and the power of nature. The theme of people battling with nature runs through the story. Humans set their smartest minds and their most advanced technologies against the indifferent forces of nature and each time humans are defeated. 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. From the beginning, Rolf Carle 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. She knows 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.
One of the most touching aspects of “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” is the older waiter’s expressed solidarity with the old man. While the young waiter is all “youth” and “confidence,” the old waiter and the old man seem overwhelmingly lonely and tired-out by life, which depicts solidarity. Hemingway is a writer obsessed by ethical conduct. Major his writing is concerned with questions of good versus bad actions. In this story, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game. “Nothing,” or the Spanish equivalent “nada,” is the most important word in this short story. It is the reason why the old man kills himself, according to the older waiter: “‘Last week he tried to commit suicide,’ one waiter said.”/ “‘Why?'”/ “‘He was in despair.'”/ “‘What about'”/ “‘Nothing.'”/ “‘How do you know it was nothing?'”/ “‘He has plenty of money.'” It is the word which obsesses the old waiter as well. After work, he leans against a bar and recites two prayers to himself substituting “nada” for most of the prayer’s major verbs and nouns. The result is a litany of “nadas.”