Ambiguity in Gabriel Garcia Marquez: An Angel or Just “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”

Angels are one of the most primordial archetypes of the supernatural realm, identical to humans in almost every except for having wings, thus setting up an unavoidable moment of recognition: when an angel appears in this world, ye shall know him by his wings. In “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” author Gabriel Garcia Marquez plays upon this recognition to use his title character to challenge cultural assumptions about deeply held religious traditions and spiritual beliefs. His story of a winged man appearing in a village with no explanation reveals the shallowness of the actual faith that lies beneath the thin shiny veneer of ritual; Garcia Marquez’s villagers become a collective symbol for the cruelty with which people treat things that are foreign to the narrow-minded values they used to define their culture.

The true nature of the title character is purposely left ambiguous by the author in order to place that decision fully upon the villagers. Although the true nature and purpose of the old man is never revealed, his action clearly indicate a lack of desire, will or capacity to do harm. By eliminating the possibility that old man with wings represents a threat capable of causing conflict within their culture, his arrival transforms into moral instruction on the subject of how mistreatment of a foreigner can be stimulated when a community comes into conflict with their own cultural assumptions through unexpectedly facing a challenge to their cultural expectations. The theme of alienation runs through the story from the beginning, but before long it is clear that this is a distinctive kind of alienation. Although physically repellant and with a bearing completely at odds with traditional artistic representations of angels, the true nature of this theme only becomes apparent when the town priest expresses suspicion that the utterly unique creature with wings is probably an imposter because “he saw that he did not understand the language of God or know how to greet His ministers.” This assumption is only confirmed among the villagers upon his rejection of mothballs and their blind acceptance of the shaky premise that they are “food prescribed for angels.” Gradually, it becomes clear that this obscure creature is not alienated by the villagers because of unexplainable unfamiliarity, but because of his explainable unfamiliarity. Unable to resolve the contradiction of a man with wings not conforming to the angel they know, they can rationalize a moral justice to their rejection on the basis of what he definitely is not rather than what may possibly be.

Deemed to be a stranger and something that is alien to constructed cultural values, the old man can without guilt be unceremoniously dumped into a chicken coop as a reward for not being clubbed to death. By that point, the entire town in aware and thus complicit. This dehumanization of a possible winged angel by forcing him into into a coop built for winged food becomes an example of responding to alienation through ethnic prejudice “an ideology which makes an incomprehensible world intelligible by imposing upon that world a simplified and categorical `answer system’” (Seeman, 1959). The answer system in this case involves “finding out if the prisoner had a navel, if his dialect had any connection with Aramaic, how many times he could fit on the head of a pin, or whether he wasn’t just a Norwegian with wings.” Ethnic prejudice creates a system in which the next best thing to proving the old man is an angel and is proving that he’s not. And since it incomprehensible that a real angel could diverge so sharply from their assumptions, the only intelligible answer is that he is not an angel. The only logical conclusion that can be extrapolated from the determination that he is not an angel is that his wings are evidence that he is either a fraud or freak. Either way, his mere existence is an abomination in the face of everything they hold sacred. Since an abomination is by definition alien to God’s natural world, any cruelty and mistreatment directed toward him is justified through faith. Such treatment may even perhaps be nothing less than God’s will.

The establishment of the old man as an abomination justifies the villagers’ alienation and eradicates the risk that mistreatment can be categorized as inhumane, since his wings prove that he is not human. While he hasn’t actually been proven not to be an angel, either, he has proven a threat to the community. Not through any exhibition of desire to do harm, but as a threat to the cultural foundation upon which the community has constructed its definition of itself. The villagers may have failed in their effort to prove beyond all doubt that the old man is not an angel in any sense, but they can be satisfied that they have proven he’s not an angel specific to the narrow conception of what such a creature would be. That narrow chasm of difference can be filled by their collective absence of empathy and the totality of their indifference to his suffering.

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” has been classified as an example of the Magical Realism literary genre, in which the supernatural fits comfortably with the natural world. As a result, the story can end with the image of the stranger using his wings to take flight without necessitating a final resolution to the mystery of his origin or nature. That unexplained nature has already placed the villager in conflict with the villagers’ own cultural expectations and the result has been the decision to alienate the stranger in their midst because of the incomprehensibility of angelic nature as defined within their restricted worldview. As the old man flies away from the village, his mystery is transferred to readers, who now must bring their own cultural assumptions into play as they interpret for themselves whether they would recognize an angel by his wings when he appears in the world.


Seeman, M. (1959). On the meaning of alienation. American Sociological Review, 24(6), 783-791. Retrieved from

Illustrious Feathers

Simply by existing as a product of the human genome and becoming integrated into society, one unavoidably becomes aware of the fact that there is a wide range of good and bad that men and women are capable of. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children” portrays its events with little bias: while at first appearing to take a very negative spin on the truth, the harsh themes one observes as a reader stem solely from the actions and thoughts of each character. Through the theme of religion, this 1955 short story displays a false piety that many characters exhibit, by bringing to light the effects that the old man’s wings have on the behavior of the surrounding people the author shows the public’s insincerity, and through the remainder of the story he illustrates the common cruelty and selfishness that is acted upon so naturally.

Religion, as a general principle, brings a lot of joy into the lives of those who practice it; providing calculated responses to unanswerable questions, giving purpose and meaning to human existence, and allowing many to feel a much-yearned for sense of belonging through like-minded communities. However, this happy portrayal of this system of beliefs is not always pure: like any other dogma, religion holds dark secrets and brings about as much evil, if not more so, as it does good. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” exhibits many of the negative qualities of Christianity in particular through subtle metaphors and, more prominently, the actions of religious figures.

A high amount of false piety is shown through the thoughts and actions of the main characters of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, particularly Pelayo, Elisenda, and Father Gonzaga. Throughout the story, the three appear to see themselves as magnanimous, completely ignorant to the injustices they commit upon the old man. As early as their first instance with the winged stranger, they mindlessly disregarded the charity they later preach and instead turned to their faith for answers to their inquiries rather than its teachings in kindness. As the old man lay face down in the mud, clearly very old, ill, and perhaps even dead, his wings bring Pelayo and Elisenda, the inhabitants of the house, to forget the common courtesy of helping him up or at least seeing if he was alive. It is not until after they hear the verdict of a neighbor who supposedly knows everything there is to know about life and death – who tells them with confidence that he is an angel – that they even interact with him (Marquez, 1). After locking him up into the chicken coop, they invariably continue to feel altruistic when they decide that “they did not have the heart to club him to death”, (1) when they speculate whether or not to generously “put the angel on a raft with fresh water and provisions for three days and leave him to his fate on the high seas” (1), or when “Pelayo threw a blanket over him and extended him the charity of letting him sleep in the shed” (4). Never do they stop to wonder why they should have needed to club him to death in the first place, or whether he, in his state, would survive without being swallowed by the sea, or whether he needs medical attention (they find him to have a fever only after allowing him to stay in the shed). Yet, through all of this, they hold true to their false sense of virtue, always consulting the knowledgeable neighbor or Father Gonzaga before making a decision, and on top of that, gaining monetarily from the crowds flocking to see the winged man without even passing a thought of repaying him in any way. This oblivious selfishness is, unfortunately, something that many humans display often around the world.

What is most shocking about this is not the behavior of Pelayo and Elisenda, which could be considered reasonably contemptible, but the response of Father Gonzaga to the circumstances. He who is devout by nature of his occupation still could not extend the courtesy that any person deserves. The bible teaches one to treat another the way he/she wishes to be treated, and even if the old man was not technically human, this principle extends past the barriers of species. As a priest, Father Gonzaga is expected to behave with dignity, kindness, and justice, yet immediately upon his arrival, he gives way to the same assumptions the rest of the people had come to, suspecting that he is an imposter when he does not speak the language of God, which should have been a sign of his angelicism. The priest, who in a way was the old man’s only hope of achieving reasonable treatment and possibly some healthcare, provides no more affection than the rest. This behavior, in some ways, parallels the rigid denial that certain parts of the church illustrate towards those who stray from the norm. While the whole of Christianity is not conducted in this manner, there are some of this faith that do not accept differences as readily as others, and this theme is even more prominent in the time of the story’s writing in 1955, an era that was partially characterized by its struggle to overcome racial prejudice, sexism, and other hierarchical issues.

An aspect of human nature, and therefore society, which has always been so and will continue indefinitely is all animals’, particularly peoples’, discomfort with unfamiliarity and differences. The dissimilarities amongst human beings and their consequential feelings of discomfort and fear have brought many to justify cruel behavior: Slavery and segregation was justified by the thought that those with darker skin were of less importance, thus less deserving of respect; conquistadorial destruction of many cultures was justified because the traditions of differing communities were perceived to be of lesser value; etc. While not all of this behavior is quite so extreme or on such a large scale, differences in culture and what one is comfortable with ultimately shapes many everyday actions and decisions, whether or not we are aware of it. That is not to suggest that this is a credential of an evil-doer, since the discomfort one feels in an unfamiliar environment is totally natural, yet so many foolhardy interactions come of this aspect of human nature that do not end positively. Marquez excellently portrays this phenomenon with an accuracy that elicits a chronic pang of sympathy that lasts from first to final page through the community’s treatment of the old man with wings.

The entirety of Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is based on assumptions of the old man’s differences from the public, the largest of them being that the man was an angel simply because of his feathered wings. Based on this hasty conclusion, every character, both major and minor, treats him with the precursory thought that he is a supernatural being. There is an odd period when he first arrives when onlookers “were making all kinds of conjectures concerning the captive’s future” (1), but what is most strange about this is not that they feel the right to decide his fate, but that after they make suggestions that imply reverence such as “mayor of the world” and “five-star general in order to win all wars” (2), he receives not a grain of respect from a soul (not even from the chickens!). Then, later in the story, the public finds him easy to forget when a girl who had been transformed into an enormous tarantula comes to town: “A spectacle like that, full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat without even trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals” (3). The public appears to find her easier to empathize with, and although her form is much less human than the old man’s, whose only contradictory characteristic is his feathers, they treat her as being more human. Her story as the girl who was changed forever after disobeying her parents was easy for the public to sympathize with because, in their setting, this is something that could have happened to anyone. In the end, what really evokes the public’s respect, if only subconsciously, is the fact that she could speak their language. As someone they could not communicate with, the old man with the wings was easy to dissociate from the thoughts and feelings of a human, especially in combination with the conclusion that he was supernatural, much as it is easier for people to treat animals with less respect than their fellow humans.

On top of the religious facets of society as illustrated in the short story, there is a general air of cruelty and selfishness that is prominent throughout. Whether it is a cynic’s portrayal of the ways of the world or simply reflections of the author’s observations, the content of the story paints a very ugly picture of humans’ flaws. In addition to the manifestations of cruelty mentioned earlier in relation to religion and intolerance of variety, there are several more examples that seem to have behind them no real purpose other than general selfishness. Upon realizing that people were coming from all over to see their captive angel, it was easy to charge a small admission fee and still rack up a fortune for the household. “Pelayo and Elisenda were happy with fatigue, for in less than a week they had crammed their rooms with money” (2), yet as they improve all aspects of their lives as a family through their new-found fortune, they fail to think even for a moment about the possibility of using any of their fiscal gains to help the old man. It wasn’t until long after the spectators had ceased appearing on the property and just after the chicken coop collapsed that they realize the man is very ill, which, after the amount of time he’d already spent with the family, is rather appalling. Pelayo and Elisenda were so very enveloped in their own desires that they fail to notice or care about the state of the poor man. These two are not the only who treat him with neglect or brutality: “the cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing” (2). They even burn him with a branding iron to see if he was still living. Everyone in his presence uses him to benefit themselves in some way, and it was surprising to read that the cripples, who are probably acquainted with misfortune, fell under that category, as well as those who were “the most merciful”. The most horrific of all this malice is that, when they finally discover that the old man is sick and probably dying, the only reason they care is because not “even the wise neighbor woman had been able to tell them what to do with dead angels” (4). It is human nature to put one’s self first because that is an essential for survival, but selfishness to this extent is both despicable and unfortunately common in society.

Despite the balance of benevolent and malicious aspects of society and those who conduct it, Gabriel Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children” very much highlights the parts that are particularly wicked. Through the well-intentioned institute of religion he brings to the reader’s attention a false piety that most of the characters exhibit, and by emphasizing the behavioral effects of stark differences between people (or creatures), he shows the intolerance that many found so natural, and in most of the remaining carefully chosen word of the story he displays the common cruelty and selfishness of every character. Perhaps the author’s purpose in entitling the story a tale for children is a warning to the youth to beware of the nastiness of human.

A Crab, a Spider, and the Noisy Stars Above: An Analysis of the Magical Absurdity in Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

A Crab, a Spider, and the Noisy Stars Above: An Analysis of the Magical Absurdity in Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” A multitude of literary devices can ultimately sway the interpretation of a literary work in one direction or another. Authors employ symbols, gaps, motifs, and cruxes to either dilute or emphasize a grand—or sometimes not-so-grand—message for the reader to internalize and solicit meaning. The interpretation of these meanings, however, relies on heavy subjectivity from the reader and often varies from one critical analysis to the next, particularly when examining a text from a Formalist perspective. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, exemplifies the imprecise science behind textual analysis by distorting the separations between the supernatural and the conventions of human experience. Marquez bonds the realms of magic and the physical universe in such a manner that both the characters and the reader must struggle to decipher the meanings that circumscribe the juxtaposed reality within the story. From a Formalist perspective, Marquez summons dramatic images of the grotesque, exercises irony and juxtaposition, and challenges the credentials of humanity to make “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” a parody of the process of literary interpretation. Frances K Barasch defines the grotesque as a moment, or recurrence of moments, manifested in an image or series of images that yields an inherent conflict between disgust and humor (4). These images, usually characterized by “ludicrous-horror”, leave the reader torn between laughter and disgust (5). Marquez clearly frames his narrative in this manner, and instances of the grotesque and the ridiculous routinely appear throughout the text, often simultaneously. The contrast makes the solicitation of meaning difficult for the reader. For example, Marquez does not grant the obvious and expected “angelic” characteristics to the old man. Rather than furnish his angel with the iconic qualities of youth, majesty, or heraldry, Marquez introduces an abomination complete with dirty, half-plucked “buzzard wings” and an inability to overcome the force of the rain (Barnet et al. 177). Furthermore, Pelayo and Elisenda demonstrate their own grotesque behavior by locking the old man with the fowl in their chicken coop. This, too, is unexpected, and casts the story in both horror and humor. Marquez acknowledges the absurdity of his angel’s condition, allowing his narrator to comment that the angel is not “a supernatural creature but a circus animal” (177). The angel, however, is not the only grotesque image Marquez provides. The woman who changes from a human into a spider is equally split between the revolting and the ridiculous, again emerging as parody and ultimately relegated to the status of “carnival attraction” (179). It is these contrasting paradigms of light and dark that Marquez calls forth to confuse the reader, effectively creating a farce not only within the confines of the text, but also within the intrinsic processes of textual interpretation. Much like the vacillating inclusion of the absurd and grotesque, the images, characters, and behaviors exhibited in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” often result in verbal or contextual irony. Marquez frequently applies these various forms of irony to redirect the interpretation of the text. Elisenda and her husband, for example, fail to make the initial connection to the supernatural and, instead, determine the odd visitor to be an old sailor. Considering that Elisenda’s name derives from the root name Elizabeth, which translates to “consecrated to God”, it is odd that she fails to see the truth, instead ceding the epiphany to one of her neighbors (Kenyon 343). In addition, Father Gonzaga—the spiritual expert in the town—suspends judgment on the man’s identity. The community, on the other hand, puts their faith in the words of the old woman, lighting sacramental candles and holding vigil over the chicken coop. Furthermore, Marquez dispenses irony in the “consolation miracles” attributed to the angel’s presence. None of the miracles actually cure any of the afflicted, and the arrival of the spider-woman abomination essentially “ruined the angel’s reputation” (Barnet et al. 179). The manner in which Marquez recurrently devalues the iconographic meaning or potential of the angel becomes laughable; therefore, his grand symbol is essentially made lame. Additionally, his characters find the story of the spider-woman, “a spectacle…full of so much human truth…” to be more believable than the arrival of an angel, despite the infinite absurdity linked to her origin (179). Once the spider-woman wins the affections of the townspeople, the story successfully juxtaposes the human institutions of faith and truth. In his debasement of the evangelical symbols wrought throughout the text, Marquez forces the reader to carefully consider the intrinsic worth of his own themes, as well as the modalities of reader-response. In addition to his frequent deployment of irony and images of the grotesque, Marquez tests the soundness of his characters’ credentials and, in doing so, successfully compels the reader to examine his or her own. In the text, Pelayo and his wife confront their visitor from the perspective of lost convenience. His appearance in no way incites either of them to assess faith, God, or the supernatural. The old man’s wings bear no indication of either a supernatural or heavenly affiliation. However, rather than seek immediate assistance from the town’s parish or intelligentsia, Pelayo and Elisenda turn to their neighbor, the woman of cliché “who knew everything about life and death”, for her professional consultation (177). She determines that the man is an angel, was trying to take the sick child but could not overcome the vigor of the rain, and, accordingly, cannot be a wayward sailor. This quick conclusion stands in contrast to Father Gonzaga’s pseudo-scientific suspension of judgment regarding the man’s true nature. Furthermore, the town’s people seem to reject any formal assumption, opting to assign him arbitrary identities such as “mayor of the world” or the harbinger of a new “race of winged wise men who could take charge of the universe” (177). Yet despite the lofty expectations gleaned from his sudden appearance, the characters accept his captivity in the coop and treat him accordingly. Even Rome’s response to Gonzaga fails to elicit any kind of formal edict; conversely, church officials concern themselves with pseudo-scientific minutia. Thus, through his use of role confusion amongst his characters, Marquez again disguises the meaning behind his plot and character interaction. A formal interpretation of the textual message becomes difficult and, furthermore, seems to indicate that Marquez purposely confounds the conventions of social roles, values, and mores. The resulting conflict between the expected truths and actual truths within the text alludes to a connection in the process of interpretation: the reader must question the credibility of his or her own perspective. Indeed, Marquez offers little clemency for those seeking a finite explication of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. The reader is forced to find meaning among a jumble of contrasting images, themes, and social prescriptions. The absurd magic Marquez orchestrates throughout his story causes a rift between the expected response and an altruistic reader-response. The text in a sense teaches critics that their own analytical processes are illusory. In this way Marquez’s story is both comedy and fable, warning that we, too, will be unable to recognize the arrival of the messiah text if we take ourselves too seriously.Works CitedBarasch, Frances K. “The Grotesque as a Comic Genre.” Modern Language Studies. 15,1 (1985): 4-5. JSTOR. UMUC’s Information and Library Services. 4 Oct 2008.Kenyon, Sherrilyn. Character Naming Sourcebook, 2nd Ed. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest, 2005.Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” An Introduction to Literature, 15th Ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet et al. New York: Longman, 2008. 176-81.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Human Nature

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a modern Colombian author, explores both the natural and the supernatural in his short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Although the plot revolves around the character of a winged man who has fallen to earth, the story’s true focus is not on the angel, but on the people surrounding him. Throughout the story, Garcia Marquez takes an essentially negative view of human nature. According to the author, people not only lack logic, they demonstrate ignorance. Such mindlessness is bad enough, but what is far worse is the human characters’ cruelty. The townspeople mistreat the angel simply because he is different. Garcia Marquez’s worst indictment of humanity, however, is reflected in their stubborn refusal to appreciate the miraculous.One way in which the author criticizes human nature is in his portrayal of mankind’s intelligence. The story’s characters, with the exception of the angel, lack the ability to think clearly. When Pelayo and Elisenda, his wife, first find the angel, they conclude that he must be a “castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm” (634). They base this conclusion on the fact that he does not speak their own language. In order to think him a mere sailor, however, they must overlook the obvious fact that he possesses wings. Even the neighbor woman who declares him an angel lacks logic; she immediately assumes that he has come “for the child” (634). In other words, she thinks that the angel is bringing death. Since there are many reasons why an angel might come to their town, and this woman has no proof that the angel intends to harm anyone, her assumption is illogical. The worst demonstration of mindlessness, however, comes from the priest, who decides that since the angel speaks no Latin, he must not really be an angel. Latin, after all, is a human language, and any priest worth the name would know that the Bible was originally written in languages far more ancient. No educated person would claim that angels must speak Latin.Although Garcia Marquez presents a negative view of humanity by emphasizing mankind’s lack of logic and knowledge, he cites a failure of compassion as an even worse flaw. The neighbor who recognizes the creature as an angel actually recommends clubbing him to death. Pelayo and Elisenda are scarcely better; they imprison the angel in the chicken coop. Their true intention is to set him adrift with “fresh water and provisions for three days” (635). Indeed, they view this course of action as “magnanimous” (635); the only thing that stops them from carrying it out is the fact that the “whole neighborhood” (635) has come out to see the angel. Neither are the townspeople compassionate: they make fun of the winged man as though he were a “circus animal” (635). Elisenda has no sympathy for the angel’s plight; instead, she charges money to see him. Most cruel of all, Pelayo and Elisenda continue to keep the angel locked up for years. Because the angel is unlike them, they do not believe him worthy of care or concern, let alone kindness. As the story progresses, not a single person in the town objects to the way Pelayo and his wife keep the angel locked up in a filthy chicken coop.Garcia Marquez’ characters represent a tendency to mistreat those who are different, but when those same characters fail to recognize the miraculous, it further demonstrates the author’s negative opinion of humanity. Most people, when confronted with an angel, would have a profound religious awakening. Pelayo, Elisenda, and their neighbors, however, give no spiritual weight at all to the appearance of the divine among them. When they are not using the winged man’s misfortune to their own advantage, they ignore him. This tendency to regard the supernatural as completely commonplace is also seen in the townspeople’s relationship with the woman who has been changed into a spider. They do not find her “outlandish shape” (637) startling; what impresses them is a perfectly ordinary story of how she once disobeyed her parents. Because her tale is “full of human truth” (637), it fascinates them far more than does “the haughty angel” (637) who lives among them. Even more surprisingly, not even actual miracles taking place in their city cause the townspeople to appreciate the supernatural. Instead of accepting such miracles as proof that the spiritual is at work in their lives, the townspeople dwell on the peculiar character of the angel’s magic. They even call his acts “consolation miracles” (638), a term of contempt. Moreover, Elisenda’s disdain for the miraculous is so strong that at the end of the story, she summarizes the angel in one word: as an “annoyance” (639).”A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” contains a brief yet elegant presentation of human nature as thoughtless, predatory, and unspiritual. Not only do the characters possess little logic or knowledge, they do not have the slightest compassion for the angel, or indeed, for anyone whom they perceive as different. Worst of all, in Garcia Marquez’s view, is the characters’ refusal to recognize or appreciate the miraculous in their very midst. This story, however, presents more than a negative view of humanity. It also reflects a profound challenge. By pointing out several flaws in human nature, Garcia Marquez suggests ways in which mankind should better itself. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is an important story because, like all fine works of literature, it points out the need for a better world, one in which people are, at long last, intelligent, compassionate, and deeply spiritual.Works CitedGarcia Marquez, Gabriel. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” World Literature: An Anthology of Great Short Stories, Drama, and Poetry. Ed. Donna Rosenberg. Lincolnwood: NTC Publishing, 1996.

The Family Who Never Said “Thank You:” Fate, Divinity, and Gratitude in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

“…the exasperated and unhinged Elisenda shouted that it was awful living in that hell full of angels,” is a line that occurs toward the ending of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Màrquez. It accurately depicts how humans can only experience divine power for so long before they begin to take it for granted and not realize all of the good things that come from it. Also, in various points of this story, the family that keeps an angel in their chicken coop is blessed in a large number of ways: their son was almost dead but was miraculously healed, they collected a large sum of money from the people that paid to see the old man and ask him questions, and they were able to use the money to buy nice things for themselves. Although these things are great and their standard of living is greatly increased, the family never traces their fortune and wellbeing back to the angel that gave it to them. The message that Garcia Màrquez is trying to convey to the reader is to be thankful for things that come to you or your family through ways other than your own means, even when it may come from a divine power and you’re not sure who to thank.

The first way that Garcia Màrquez conveys this message is through the healing of the child towards the beginning of the story. Soon after the angel appears, interrupting the lives of one family, their son is suddenly healed without explanation after being terribly ill. Elisenda, the mother of the son who had been healed, had been taking care of this child as any mother would, but residing in a rural village without access to medicine or other medical supplies, she wasn’t able to do a whole lot. The arrival of the angel is so shocking and unexpected for everyone that it just seems like a coincidence that the son is healed at the same time the angel lands; “A short time afterward [the appearance of the angel] the child woke up without a fever and with a desire to eat.” Although it wouldn’t be the first thought to most people to thank the angel, this family could have attributed the fact that he’s still alive to the major change that happened when he got better: the angel’s arrival and the fact that divine beings have the power to heal people. Garcia Màrquez uses this incident to set the mood for the rest of this story, showing that the family will never be truly grateful for what what they are blessed with and view the angel as less of a bringer of good fortune and more of an inconvenience to their daily lives.

The next way Garcia Màrquez shows that being thankful is important is by showing the family hoarding the money that they received. “Pelayo and Elisenda were happy with fatigue, for in less than a week they had crammed their rooms with money and the line of pilgrims waiting their turn to enter still reached beyond the horizon;” this quote shows just how much the family profited off the angel being in their backyard. Although having riches and being happy that you have them isn’t inherently being ungrateful, the fact that this family just piled up the money and didn’t even attribute it to the divine being that they had stuffed in their chicken coop is ungrateful. If the family had connected their newfound prosperity to the thing that happened that caused it (the arrival of the angel), they may have been able to appreciate it more and would have housed him somewhere a little nicer than a chicken coop. Also, if the family had realized that they had nearly nothing to do with the money that they had received other than charging people to see the angel, they would have been more humble and treated the angel with the reverence it deserved.

The last way that Garcia Màrquez shows that being thankful for things that happen by ways other than hard work is at the end of the story when he describes the many things the family is able to acquire with their newfound riches. “The owners of the house had no reason to lament. With the money they saved they built a two-story mansion…” comes directly from the story and shows that the family was only able to get these things from showing off the angel to the people that travelled to their village. Instead of holing themselves up in their new mansion and leaving the angel in the chicken coop, they should have let him inside and been more gracious hosts to the angel that had given them every good thing they had been able to acquire. Towards the end of the story, “Pelayo threw a blanket over him and extended him the charity of letting him sleep in the shed, and only then did they notice that he had a temperature at night.” Only when the family moves the man that had given them nearly every good thing that happened did they notice that he was sick, which is another way that Garcia Màrquez shows that being grateful mean taking care of the things that caused good fortune in the first place. This statement shows that the family had hit rock bottom with their generosity shortly before this, when people had stopped coming to see the angel, so he hadn’t been bringing in money for the family to store up. If they had been grateful for what they had been given, they would have given the angel much better accommodations and he might have even given them more than what they already had.

The message Garcia Màrquez is trying to convey to the readers of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is to be thankful for things that come to you by means that are not your own. The family in this story received healing for their son, fame, a large sum of money, and many other things from a divine creature that had landed in their backyard, and never once in the story did they thank him for all of the things that he had brought them. Although they ended up well off in life, being grateful for things has repercussions that extend far beyond this life. If everyone was more thankful for things that they are blessed with, the world would be a much better place, according to Garcia Màrquez.

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

In his short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, Gabriel Garcia Marquez leaves readers to wonder whether one of the central characters is actually an angel. There is no clear answer to this question because the old man remains a rather mysterious figure throughout the story, and the open ending makes him even more ambiguous. However, I think that Marquez intentionally leaves it for everyone to decide whether this character is an angel or not, and this decision is meant to reveal people for who they truly are.

The old man is not wholly developed because there is no possibility to get an insight into his character. He allows the absolute freedom of interpretation to other characters and readers alike because he never attempts to speak for himself. Nor does he try to act independently until the very end of the story when he decides to fly away. His inability to communicate with other characters relies on the fact that he does not speak the local language, Spanish. Apparently, he is not willing to learn as he communicates only in his native language: “Then they dared speak to him, and he answered in an incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor’s voice” (Garcia Marquez 2). This makes him even more of a stranger than he already is. Basically, he appeared out of nowhere, he has no ties to anyone in the village, and he has no apparent goal. There is not much to learn about him throughout the story, except for the most apparent aspects.

Since the old man does not explain himself, others may only rely on how he looks like and evaluate him accordingly to these physical characteristics. It is a known fact that people tend to understand the same things differently due to such various factors as their bias, personal beliefs, previous experiences, personalities, education, social circles, and so on. Although the same man is presented, he can be seen and comprehended differently by everyone who sees him. Thus, it is important to point out his main characteristics in order to determine how they can be interpreted. His description in the story is the following:

He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather had taken away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud (Garcia Marquez 2).

The contradictory parts of this description are the wings and the overall weary appearance. On the one hand, if the old man has wings, he is supposed to be an angel or some other divine creature. On the other hand, there is nothing divine about the rest of his characteristics as Garcia Marquez specifically uses such analogies as “ragpicker” to depict the most degraded of human states. At the same time, there is an implication of a supernatural connection between the old man and Pelayo’s and Elisenda’s child. The child is very sick until the old man appears in the patio, and then the fever disappears. Moreover, as the old man remains in the village for a few years until the child grows and starts to attend school, it may be assumed that the man has been there all this time as a guardian angel. In a way, he brought positive influence in the child’s life by his mere presence. He left the child healthy, in a flourishing house, with prosperous parents, although he appeared when everything was considerably worse. This contradictory complexity creates even more space for interpretation.

The ways in which other people treat the old man reveal them for who they truly are. He may be seen as an angel to be respected and revered. He may be perceived as a freak to gape at and exploit. He may be seen as a homeless stranger to be pitied. There is no way to determine which option is right because this rightness is decided individually, depending on each character’s goals and characteristics. For instance, this is how the villagers reacted to the old man for the first time: “[…] the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the angel, without the slightest reverence, tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if he weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal” (4). This scene depicts the villagers as cruel and ignorant people who mainly care about their own amusement. The church officials, on the other hand, are highly inquisitive in their attempts to reveal who the old man truly is: “They spent their time finding out if the prisoner had a navel, if his dialect had any connection with Aramaic, how many times he could fit on the head of a pin, or whether he wasn’t just a Norwegian with wings” (9). This reaction depicts them as intellectuals who always seek answers and are not satisfied with leaving strange phenomena as they are. As the characters treat the old man differently, readers may also have their personal opinions in this matter, and thus uncover something new about their own selves judging by their reactions.

All in all, Garcia Marquez does not fully develop the character of the old man to use him as a mirror for other characters and even readers. The old man’s appearance is composed of such contradictory elements that he can be perceived and interpreted differently. Thus, it is difficult to tell whether he is an angel, a freak of nature, or a homeless madman. Possibly, he is all of these things or something else entirely. The truth about him is never revealed, but the ways in which other people react to him are the determinants of their personalities.

The Imperfection of Human Nature and Selfishness in “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”

Magical realism is a genre where mysteriously enchanting events are intertwined with a realistic setting. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1982, investigates the negative view of human nature and derides the Roman Catholic Church through the short story “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.” A family utilizes an old man who falls from the sky for their own personal gain and profit. The angel is imprisoned in a chicken coop where townspeople mistreat him. Marquez uses characters, objects, and the setting itself as symbols to satirize Human responses to those who are weak, dependent, and different.

Marquez uses the elements of magical realism in his short story to heavily emphasize how people fear what they don’t understand and dislike what they can’t defeat; which can also result in cruel treatment. This is a recurring theme that can be found throughout the story. Even though the plot focuses on an old man with “huge buzzard wings” (1), the stories’ focal point is not the angel, but the people surrounding him. The locals mistreat the man because he is viewed as being different or alien. For example, Pelayo “locked him [the old man] up with the hens in the wire chicken coop” and the neighborhood gathers in front of the coop “tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal” (1). Additionally, “they burned his side with an iron for branding steers” (2). Even though the man is seen different, his foil, “the woman who had been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents” (3), is not abused because she can answer all manner of questions, explain herself, and communicate with people.

Marquez also uses satire to denounce the selfishness of humanity. Greed is an intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth. In the short tale Elisenda charges “five cents admission to see the angel” and in less than a week “they [including Pelayo] had crammed their rooms with money” (2). “With the money they saved they built a two-story mansion with balconies and gardens” and “Elisenda bought some satin pumps with high heels and many dresses of iridescent silk” (3). The “chicken coop was the only thing that didn’t receive any attention” (3). Although the old man aids the family make a surplus of money and cures their sick child, because of their selfish desire, nothing is done to help the angel.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” Marquez also criticizes the Roman Catholic Church through the use of symbols to represent the idea that there is frequently hypocrisy even within people of faith in their lack of compassion, empathy, and kindness. In addition, the story makes fun of the slow, bureaucratic hierarchy of the church and its officials. This is symbolized by the village priest known as Father Gonzaga. As an authority figure in the community, he takes it upon himself to determine whether the old man is an angel or a mortal accompanied by wings. Although Gonzaga is doubtful that the old man is a messenger of God, despite being a priest, he indirectly writes the Supreme Pontiff “in order to get the final verdict from the highest courts” (2). However, the churches’ officials seem to be in no rush to find out the truth about the angel. “They spent their time finding out if the prisoner had a navel” or “how many times he could fit on the head of a pin” (3). Because the angel is dressed like a ragpicker, dirty, much too human, and speaks in “an incomprehensible dialect” (1), that is supposedly not “the language of God” (2), he doesn’t meet Gonzaga’s expectations. Additionally, the angel doesn’t know how to greet His ministers, so as a result, the old man is treated inhumanely, cruel, and is referred to animals as a hen or dog.

Unable to represent those in traditional form, society questions the man as an angel because of his unexpected appearance. Comparable to Christ, the angel is known to cure the sick and is good with children. People are skeptical that Jesus is the Messiah because his appearance does not meet the godliness traits like what they anticipated a Christ figure should acquire. So as a result, Jesus and the old man are tortured and harassed because they test the true faith of society. People never seem to understand the greater significance of life.