Isabel Allende’s “And of Clay Are We Created” is one of the most compelling stories ever written about the devastating impacts of environmental tragedies on the lives of people who are directly affected by and those who bear witness to the enormity of death, waste, and decay in its aftermath. However, Allende’s story is also disturbing because it exposes the inconsistencies between moral and ethical expectations from authorities and institutions, and the moral and ethical practice of these institutions in reality. Arguably, the story is made more disturbing by the fact that the Church, the Government, and the Media did little or even nothing to save the lives of victims of the volcanic tragedy despite the fact that they have the resources to prevent more deaths and more casualties. In turn, the story effectively illustrates how the real tragedy is the lack of moral and ethical sense in the Church, Government, and the Media, as institutions, that result to the intensification of the losses incurred by ordinary citizens.
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Indeed, the story first indicts the Church for its passivity and inaction in the midst of the tragedy. It is notable that the Church, which figures prominently in society as a charitable institution, is absent and passive in the story. Here, doctors and volunteers have to beg for medical assistance in order to continue saving lives while and the Church is a distant, missing entity in rescue and relief efforts.
Allende is also able to show the frustrating aspect of dealing with the Government even for such purpose as saving a life. In the story, Carle realizes that he needs a pump to get Azucena out of the debris alive as the dead weight of two children clinging to her legs kept all other efforts at rescuing her in vain. Carle’s lover, seeing his agony at his failure to save the girl, tries to obtain a water pump from the Government by calling the attention of legislators and army officers alike; but no one seemed to care enough for saving a life to answer her request. Even the President of the Republic himself, who witnessed Azucena’s condition and need, gave only vague promises to help but failed to keep his part of the bargain.
The most disturbing aspect, however, is Allende’s depiction of the Media and the callous manner in which it behaves, in the name of reportorial objectivity, to the plight of the victims and survivors of the tragedy. This behavior is evident in the way that the Media pulls out all the stops to gain coverage of the event, from swarming the area with field personnel for reporting to using the latest technology and equipment to bring their news to the world but does not even bother to help out the victims of the tragedy. In contrast to Carle, for instance, who shed his so called reporter’s objectivity to heed the nagging sense that he had to somehow help in the rescue attempt of the girl he was covering, the other reporters maintained their emotional distance from the distressing events as much as possible, unmoved by the pleas for help and merely capitalizing on these images for their own and their network’s interests.
It is therefore this moral and ethical contradiction within the behavior and action or inaction of supposedly powerful institutions in the midst of a tragedy that ultimately costs Azucena’s life and it is safe to assume, a thousand others.’ Thus, the story becomes more disturbing from the inaction and unwillingness of the Church, the Government, and the Media to help ease the miserable conditions of the victims of tragedy. Indeed, “And of Clay Are We Created” demonstrates the lack of sympathy for human suffering and grief in powerful social institutions that often leads to unnecessary casualties in times of emergency and crisis. Allende’s story is therefore both a poignant and stark reminder that the biggest tragedies often arise from the insensitivity of other humans, and more importantly, the social institutions on which much is expected from but fails miserably in these expectations.
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