'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' is a renowned short story written by Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian author known for his mastery of magic realism. Published in 1968, this tale presents a captivating blend of fantasy and reality, characteristic of Márquez's literary style. Subtitled 'A Tale for Children,' the story revolves around an elderly man with massive wings who unexpectedly crashes into the yard of a man named Pelayo, whose son is gravely ill. The arrival of the enigmatic angel sparks intrigue and curiosity among the townsfolk, leading to a series of extraordinary events. Before delving into an analysis of García Márquez's story, let us provide a concise summary of its plot.Read the Story
Plot Summary: A Very Old Man with Enormous Wing
The narrative commences with the elderly man with enormous wings descending into the muddy yard outside the residence of Pelayo, who resides with his wife, Elisenda, and their ailing son. The elderly man speaks in an unfamiliar dialect with a sailor's accent, rendering his origins obscure.
A female neighbor speculates that the man is an angel, blown off course by incessant rain while en route to their son. Word quickly spreads, drawing the attention of the entire neighborhood. Meanwhile, Pelayo confines the old man to his chicken coop, and to their surprise, their son's fever subsides. Contemplating the idea of setting the old man adrift on a raft with provisions, Pelayo and Elisenda reconsider when their neighbors arrive to catch a glimpse of the supposed angel.
As the day progresses, the townsfolk offer suggestions regarding the old man's fate: some propose he become the world's mayor, while others suggest appointing him as a five-star general. One individual even entertains the idea of breeding a race of superhuman creatures by using the angel for stud purposes.
Upon the arrival of the local priest, Father Gonzaga, to examine the angel, it becomes evident that the elderly man lacks understanding when the priest speaks to him in Latin. Father Gonzaga deduces that the filthy state of the angel's wings and his unangelic behavior render him an impostor. Despite this, the townspeople refuse to accept the priest's judgment and continue to flock to witness the enigmatic figure.
Seizing an opportunity, Elisenda decides to charge a five-cent admission fee to see the old man with wings. Over the following week, the couple amasses a fortune by capitalizing on people's curiosity, transforming their home into a pilgrimage site for those afflicted with unusual conditions. Speculation regarding the angel's true nature or lack thereof persists among the townsfolk.
However, the arrival of a traveling show featuring a woman who has been transformed into a spider diminishes the crowd's interest in the angel. As the fee to witness the spider-woman is lower than the cost to see the old man with enormous wings, the townspeople redirect their attention to the spider-woman's bizarre condition and abandon their curiosity about the angel.
Despite the dwindling queue to see the angel, Pelayo and Elisenda are content since they can use the money they have accumulated to build a better house. However, the continued presence of the angel in their yard becomes a nuisance. Their son spends time with the angel in the chicken coop, and both Pelayo and Elisenda contract chicken pox. Concerned about the angel's fate, they fear his impending demise. However, the angel eventually recovers and departs, spreading his wings to soar into the sky once more.
Gabriel García Márquez's 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' can be examined through the lens of fairy tales and the literary movement of magic realism. Subtitled 'a tale for children', the story intertwines fantastical elements with realistic settings and characters, creating a narrative that blurs the boundaries between the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Márquez skillfully combines mythical or fantasy elements, such as the old man with enormous wings and the woman transformed into a spider, with the everyday aspects of the story. This blending of genres is a hallmark of magic realism, a literary movement closely associated with Márquez. Magic realist fiction presents a realistic portrayal of the world while incorporating magical or fantastical elements into the narrative.
In 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings', the magical aspects are evident in the presence of supernatural beings. The enigmatic old man, whether he is a genuine angel or another mysterious entity, enters the lives of Pelayo and his son, coinciding with the improvement of the child's health. Similarly, the transformed spider-woman adds another layer of magic to the story.
However, the significance of the story extends beyond the fantastical characters themselves. It explores how societies and groups of people respond to the presence of the unusual within their midst. The old man with enormous wings remains a cipher, as his language is unknown to the townsfolk, leaving his thoughts and intentions ambiguous. His defining trait appears to be patience, quietly enduring his confinement in the chicken coop without making demands on Pelayo and Elisenda, who unexpectedly become wealthy from his presence.
In contrast, the spider-woman's transformation results from an act of disobedience, representing impatience. She becomes part of a traveling show, willingly sharing her story and courting public interest. The juxtaposition of the old man and the spider-woman highlights their contrasting natures: one old, the other young; one patient, the other flighty; one capable of flight, the other earthbound.
These characters also symbolize different concepts. The townsfolk harbor doubts about the old man's angelic origins, yet their fascination with him persists even after Father Gonzaga declares him to be a mere mortal. On the other hand, the spider-woman's transformation is visibly evident, drawing crowds due to the peculiarity of her affliction. The story raises the question of whether the old man's claims to angelhood truly matter. Regardless of his angelic status, he becomes a spectacle worthy of study and speculation. The spider-woman's condition, on the other hand, attracts attention solely based on its freakish nature.
Thus, 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' invites readers to reflect on the nature of the extraordinary and the human response to the extraordinary. It navigates the realms of fantasy and reality, engaging with themes of curiosity, spectacle, and the human tendency to seek meaning in the mysterious.