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.
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