Analysis of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings is a short story written in 1955 by Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The title features the story of an old man with wings who falls into a village in the middle of a storm. The old man’s presence in the village elicits a wide range of reactions from the residents, as some marvel at him while others are dismissive and cruel to him because he is different from the rest of the people. The story explored a wide range of themes such as gratitude, acceptance and faith using literary devices such as symbolism and magical realism. Through the story’s symbolism, Marquez asks critical questions regarding the nature of the human race and how people deal with different situations that they encounter.
The story starts with a large storm hitting the village where Pelayo and his wife (Elisenda) live. The storm throws many crabs to the shore and into Pelayo’s compound, an occurrence which Pelayo believes has made his son fall sick. One day Pelayo is out getting rid of the crabs when he sees the old man lying in the mad held down by his enormous wings. Soon, the whole village knows of the man and people react differently to him. Pelayo’s neighbor claims that the man is an angel who was coming to take the soul of Pelayo’s son, but was unable to do so after becoming weak. Father Gonzaga differs, as he questions whether the man is truly an angel. Elisenda then decides to start charging people to come see the ‘angel’ and her family grows wealthy from this venture. Meanwhile, the visitors seeing the old man treat him badly, as they coax him to move, stand or do something worthwhile. Eventually, a more interesting spectacle emerges elsewhere in the village and visitors stop streaming in to see the old man. Pelayo and Elisenda continue to stay with him, though they mistreat him, until one day it emerges that he has recuperated and he takes off and flies away.
Characters in the Story
Pelayo and Elisenda are two of the main characters in the story. They are the first to encounter the old man and since he fell in their property, they take charge of him. Through the way that Pelayo and Elisenda treat the old man, the reader is able to deduce that they are unkind and ungrateful (Spark 86). This is made obvious by the manner in which they treat the old man. In their first encounter with the old man, they find him lying out in the mud in a fragile state, despite this and the remarkable fact that the man has wings they decide to put him in the chicken coop. This shows that they are uncaring and lack mercy even in the most dire of situations. When news of the old man spreads around, people start streaming in to see him. Elisenda has trouble cleaning after the visitors so she decides to start charging people who want to see the old man. This new venture sees Pelayo and Elisenda amass a fortune that turns their lives around. They build a nice home, Pelayo starts his own business and their lives improve massively. However, none of them acknowledges or even notices the role that the old man plays in changing their fortunes (Baldez 17). The only thing they do to improve his situation is move him out of the chicken coop into a shed. The ingratitude of the couple is also shown by how they mistreat the old man, chasing him out of room after room, oblivious to how much he has changed their lives.
Another key character in the story is Father Gonzaga. After the old man appears, the villagers are bewildered and news about him spreads quickly. Pelayo and Elisenda’s neighbor suggests that the man is an angel. Pelayo’s neighbor comes out as a “curandera” (a person who is well versed in magical matters) (Aldama 52). Her explanation attracts the attention of the Father as he seeks to verify the news that an angel has fallen to the village. The Father’s appearance puts an end to the idea that the old man was an angel after he claimed that it was unlikely with the man unable to speak Latin (which he deems the language of God) and that he had a foul stench (Marquez 15). Not only does the Father refute the idea that the man is an angel, but he also goes as far as to suggest the opposite. As he is leaving, he reminds the people that the devil uses trickery to get to the faithful sometimes and that wings were not enough to make a man an angel. One thing that the reader deduces from the father’s behavior is that he believes strongly in the Christian faith, so much that he is unwilling to consider any alternatives beyond that which he knows. This is made obvious when he decides to write to the church for guidance, as he is unwilling to make any final decision himself (Stobaugh 429).
Setting of the Story
The story, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings is set in a small coastal town in modern times. Several issues in the story allude to this setting. Firstly, the storm in the beginning of the story throws many crabs inside Pelayo’s house after which he has to kill them and throw them out to see. Another issue that confirms the setting is the speed at which news about the old man spreads through the town. Marquez explains, “On the following day everyone knew that a flesh-and-blood angel was held captive in Pelayo’s house” (14). This confirms that the town is small because that could have been the only way that the news spread so fast. Lastly, the Pelayo and Elisenda’s lifestyle with their newfound fortune lets the reader know that the story is based on modern times. In one part, Marquez states, “Elisenda bought some satin pumps with high heels and many dresses of iridescent silk, the kind worn on Sunday by the most desirable women in those times” (17).
Symbolism in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
The unexpected arrival of a suspected angel and the reaction of the village and the world are symbolic in many ways within Marquez’s story. The fact that the old man is a key plot element in the story without having any characterization is evidence of his symbolic significance and that the story’s true focus is on the people around him (Wagter 86). The reaction of the village and the world is symbolic to human nature in general. The story’s author takes a negative of human nature, a fact alluded to by the way that the people treat the old man. After Pelayo has found the man, his reaction is unusual. Instead of marveling at his wings, Pelayo considers disposing the old man off in a violent manner with ideas such as “club to death” coming up (Marquez 14; Reinholtz 135). The cruel nature of human beings is also alluded to through the way that the villagers treat the old man (Williams 123). At some point, the visitors burned the man’s side with a branding iron in a bid to get him up further showing their lack of compassion and understanding for people who are different from them. Kutzinki also argues that the wings on the old man are symbolic of the Afro-American myth of flying (75). The fact that the doctor examined the old man and mused about how the wings seemed so natural on him supports this symbolism (Marquez 15).
Marquez story offers a glimpse into human nature and the way
that people react to phenomena that they do not understand. When the old man
falls into the village, the people are confused and frightened at first but
this fear soon gives way to thoughts of brutally disposing the stranger off.
Even though they do not kill him at first , the manner in which the people
treat the old man is indicative of the evil nature of human beings. Indeed,
several scholars agree that Marquez imprints a negative view of humanity in the
story as he shows the brutality, disrespect and ingratitude with which people
live their lives.
Aldama, Frederick L. Postethnic Narrative Criticism: Magicorealism in Oscar “zeta” Acosta, Ana Castillo, Julie Dash, Hanif Kureishi, and Salman Rushdie. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. Print.
Baldez, Lisa. “My Sunflowers.” Princeton Alumni Weekly 110 (2010): 17-18. Print.
Kutzinki, Vera. “The Logic of Wings: Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Afro-American Literature.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.
Marquez, Gabriel. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Faith : Stories. Ed. Michael Curtis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 13-19. Print.
Reinholtz, Eric L. Bloom’s How to Write About Gabriel García Márquez. New York: Infobase Pub, 2010. Internet resource.
Spark, Debra. Curious Attractions: Essays on Writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. Print.
Stobaugh, James. World Literature: Cultural Influences of Early to Contemporary Voices. Green Forest: Master Books, 2012. Print.
Wagter Caroline, “Mouths on fire with songs”: negotiating multi-ethnic identities on the contemporary North American stage. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013. Print.
Williams, Raymond L. A Companion to Gabriel García Márquez. Woodbridge, Suffolk [England: Tamesis, 2010. Print.