A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
A very old man with huge wings
Gabriel García Márquez is known throughout the world for his literary works, and especially his success with the magical realism style. This style creates a world where everything is mixed; the reality and the fantastic are together, and this strange world draws the reader inward. In the story “A Very Old Man with Huge Wings” by García Márquez, there are many elements of magical realism, but the purpose goes beyond just this.
In the argument of this creative and fascinating story, there are comments on the world and on the second one there are many more levels of significance. García Márquez makes many comments on life and human nature. This analysis speaks of the human reception of the supernatural, examines the human character, and criticizes the church.
In this story, an angel appears suddenly in the backyard of the house of Pelayo and Elisenda. Pelayo discovered it when he was killing crabs and throwing them in the sea because it had rained for three days. “The angel was dressed like a ragpicker” and was in a pitiful condition covered in mud (García Márquez 11). There were many talks in the town because the event was very curious, and nobody knew what to do with the angel. Some thought that the angel should be mayor of the world, while other people had bigger thoughts like creating a new, wiser race. Elisenda decided to charge five cents to see it, and people came from all over the world. Many people tried to provoke him, but the angel did not respond to the food or the much damage they cause. Pelayo and Elisenda received enough money to build a bigger house and take away the work. After some time, people abandoned him to see the girl turned into a spider. After this, for many years the angel lived there with the family until one day when he had more effort to go and fly. In the end, Elisenda felt relief because she thought of the angel as a hindrance in his life.
You can already see many elements of magical realism in this story. Magical realism has the purpose of combining elements of realism and fantasy at the same time. From the first moment, the reader has to accept time that is not measured in a normal way. It is the “third day of rain” and “the world was sad since Tuesday” do not give a specific time or concrete (García Márquez 11). The story has an angel and a woman turned into a spider, and these main people are fantastic but also parts integrated and accepted in the story. Also, other people with strange foods are mentioned briefly, for example the girl counting the beats of her heart that no longer has numbers and the man tormented by the noise of the stars (García Márquez 15). In the end, the improvement in the health of the angel does not make sense because it has already passed many years without improvement, but one day already has effort. But these elements are juxtaposed with a people that appears normal with people who gossip, houses with gardens and chicken coops, children who attend school, curious people who like the strange, and poor people who need money. García Márquez interweaves the realist and the fantastic to create a tale of magical realism. But this story is not only an example of magical realism, but also a commentary on the world today.
What would you do if I had an angel in your yard? The first comment is of the human response to the supernatural, and in this the limits of human reason are seen. The reaction of Pelayo and Elisenda is to put him on a raft with food and water to send him out of his home because they cannot explain the existence of the angel. “The absurd attempts to explain the angel’s appearance logically and to discover his raison d’etre demonstrate the limits of human reason” (McMurray 118). A lot of the time, it’s human nature if you just like explainable and understandable things. But all of the angel is not explainable. There is never an explanation of his fallen or of his purpose or of his appearance or of his exit at the end of the story. Bell-Villada also talks about this, especially about how his presence does not fit into our ideas or stereotypes of angels. “Rather than stereotypically young, heroic-looking, and blond, with sumptuous garments and wings all in white, Garcia Marquez’s mysterious stranger is dressed in rags is nearly bald and toothless and has soiled ‘buzzard wings’ strewn with parasites” (Bell- Villada 137).
It is clear that the angel is not natural in this place, because the doctor does not understand how the wings are so natural in his body or how he performs some miracles. But the human ones do not understand anything about the angel, and in addition they give preference to the girl turned into a spider because she has an understandable explanation. “Unlike the old man, she talks about her affliction. Where the old man refused, she encourages responses … There is nothing ambiguous or submerged about our perception of her “(Gerlach 84). To the simple people of this town, he likes this girl. Although she has made a mistake and disobeyed her parents to become a spider, she likes the understandable explanation. While she receives the food she wants, people treat the angel like an animal or something without feeling or feeling. Gerlach says, “similes used to describe him did not even grant him human attributes: matched with the villagers who stood around his cage he looked ‘like a huge decrepit hen among fascinated chickens’” and says that this is meant to diminish the splendor and greatness of the angel (82). In all of the treatment and guess of its existence or purpose, the people show the smallness of human reason, especially when you want to understand the supernatural.
A very old man with enourmous wings
A short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Magical realism is the approach that connects the natural and the supernatural together in a story in order to make the supernatural seem real. Marquez gives expressive details in the story that makes the supernatural hard to distinguish from the real. There are two very supernatural appearances, the old man with wings and the girl that was turned into a spider. The angel is the magical realism elect which is the very old man with wings.
On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that Pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench. The world had been sad since Tuesday. (**) A vivid picture is given about the village being sad because of the raining weather for days, with a sick child. Marquez’s setting makes it hard to believe that crabs were in the house and when throwing them out, Pelayo discovers a very old man with wings referred to as buzzard wings. Pelayo and Elisenda are surprised at first but soon this character becomes an annoyance just like the crabs. They were unable to communicate with the angel and agree to let him stay in the chicken coop.
He is very surreal as in human form but the wings displace him from others. The people of the village try to figure him out but they are very rude and disrespectful because he is not the same as them. If only he appeared more like the fantasy we have of angles; clean, neat and cheerful people would have treated him with kindness. He is very patient with the disrespect, this seems unnatural for anyone to be treated this way and not respond. The wings would make you think that he could leave, fly away, from all the commotion but they seem to hinder him. The crowd people feel as though he owes them something as they do not get the miracles filled as they felt by the angel they began to back away. This shows how selfish one can be looking out only for their personal gain.
Pelayo decided to charge a fee to see the old winged man and quickly becomes finically stable. This shows a sense of greed as they do not give any credibility to the angel. Even after they build a mansion they still leave the old chicken coop for the winged old man to live in. The home was fixed with bars so that no crabs or angles could enter it.
The spider girl arrives and the attention is take from the angel as if he is somewhat forgotten about. The curious came from far away. A traveling carnival arrived with a flying acrobat who buzzed over the crowd several times, but no one paid any attention to him because his wings were not those of an angel but, rather, those of a sidereal bat. (***) With the spider girl able to communicate with the crowd and relate the crowd treats her with respect and dignity. Being one of the supernatural elements in the story she is related to in a totally different way than the angel.
When the winged old man becomes sick is the only time they begin to worry about him.
Faithlessness in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
The sudden appearance of an angel to test the faith of a town of religious people lead towards an unexpected reaction from the Christian environment in Gabriel García Márquez’s A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. An old man falls out of the sky into Pelayo and Elisenda’s courtyard that has come to heal their sick child from a fever as an angel but is not really displayed as an angel. García Márquez’s style of this short story is grounded in magical realism as it usually is in all of his work.
The magical element displayed in this story is an old man as an angel because angels are not physically seen by humans. The setting plays a major role in this story with García Márquez having it set in Colombia, where he is from and where all his work is usually set in. Colombia is unquestionably a Catholic country. García Márquez disdains the villagers’ loss of faith in the angel by highlighting the faithlessness of the angel’s imprisoners, alongside their willingness to believe his miracles.
García Márquez uses imagery to show mistreatment of the angel to display that the villagers indeed do not believe this old man is an angel. For example, once there is rumor that there may be an old man that is depicted as an angel, everyone wants to see him. Elisenda takes advantage of this opportunity of people in her courtyard by charging everyone five cents to view him like a locked-up animal in a zoo. Also, the imagery of mistreatment towards the angel relates to the mistreatment of Jesus in the Bible. Jesus and the old man are recognized as powerless individuals, so they are abused. Just like Jesus was nailed to the cross, the very old man was physically harmed: The only time they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers, for he had been motionless for so many hours that they thought he was dead (García Márquez 147). The old man has an iron pressed to his side, meanwhile, Jesus suffers with a woven crown of thorns and nails in both his hands and feet. García Márquez paints a picture of these harsh conditions the old man is put through: He spent his time trying to get comfortable in his borrowed nest, befuddled by the hellish heat of the oil lamps and sacramental candles that had been placed along the wire (García Márquez 146). The villagers may not understand if the old man is an angel, but God’s word explains that no one should be mistreated because it is not known if they are an angel or not. Hebrews 13:2 says, Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (The Bible). The villagers’ mistreatment of the angel demonstrates their loss of faithfulness because of their disobedience to God’s word, even as they come to him for relief, this demonstrates a basic belief in miracles.
The villagers in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings are not appreciative nor respectful to the remarkable work that is done by the old man. The villagers come in search of the old man for restoration of health: a poor woman who since childhood had been counting her heartbeats and had run out of numbers; a Portuguese man who couldn’t sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him (García Márquez 146). However, the small miracles that the old man perform are not what the villagers expect, so they give up on him as an angel: Besides, the few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder, like the blind man who didn’t recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn’t get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers (García Márquez 148). The villagers fail to realize God works in mysterious ways and the blessing they received could have been the blessing God wanted the angel to give them right now only because he was giving them a little taste of how marvelous their next blessing they receive is going to be. The villagers are unwillingly and unable to understand the angel’s miracle which shows their loss of faith because a faithful Christian would be thankful for any blessing they receive.
The villagers have a difficult time finding how the old man play a role in their lives because he does not fit their expectation of an angel, so they lose faith in him being an angel. García Márquez makes it harder to believe the old man is an angel by the way he describes his appearance: 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 His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud (García Márquez 144). The villagers are unable to look past the appearance of the old man to realize his holiness, but James 2:1-13 summarizes for those who put their faith in God not to respect people based on their appearances and circumstances (The Bible). Father Gonzaga, a priest decides to determine if the man is an angel by speaking Latin to him. The priest is quick to send out letters for different opinions asking for the solution to the situation once he gets the memo that an old man is depicted as an angel because he believes the man is sent by the devil, instead, of God. It is evident the Priest thinks he is not an angel: Then he noticed that seen close up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels (García Márquez 145). God always rewards his people for their patience and so he did for the angel. After the long winter, God gives the angel a new beginning of life with wings to fly. In the story, it’s ironic for Elisenda to be joyful that the angel is finally gone because he supplied her with a two-story mansion from earnings and healed her child. This definitely shows her lack of faith because God used the angel to bless her doubly. The villagers claim to believe in God, but they do not based on their doubt of the angel, reflecting their faithlessness.
Gabriel García Márquez emphasizes the loss of faith of the villagers by the imprisonment of the angel and the miracles in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. The villagers express their misapprehension by constantly pointing out the reasons why the old man could not be an angel. The villagers’ attitudes show their lack of faith by disregarding the proof they have in front of them that this old man is an angel. There are several times God blesses people with something, but they do not see the full beauty of it because they try to make something different out of it that God did not send for them.
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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2088565
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.
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.