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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” exemplifies the blend of realism and illusion. Magical realism describes a story that appears true-to-life but has the element of whimsy or fantasy.
A poor fisherman works in his yard killing crabs after a rainstorm. He finds a dirty, old man with enormous wings lying in the yard. The old man tries to speak but cannot be understood.
The family’s child has been sick, and they wonder if he is an angel that has come to get their son. Told by his neighbor to kill the old man, Pelayo and his wife Elisenda pity the old man and place him in their chicken coop.
The child revives. The doctor examines the man and finds it hard to believe that he is alive. He views the wings as probably real. This makes the interest of the people build toward the “angel.” The old man begins to draw interested crowds of people. The priest comes and tells everyone that the old man cannot be an angel because he is too dirty and does not speak Latin.
Many people come to receive healing from the “angel.” Word spreads, and there are so many people wanting to see the old man that Pelayo’s wife charges admission to see him.
Ignoring the people, the old man has rocks thrown at him; in addition, the feathers are pulled from his wings. Some burn him with hot irons to see if he is alive which angers the old man.
The old man was the only one who took no part in his own act. He spent his time trying to get comfortable in his borrowed nest, befuddled by the hellish heat of the old lamps and sacramental candles...when they burned his side...with tears in his eyes, he flapped his wings a couple of times.
After a time, the crowd goes away to see a freak show featuring a spider woman. The old man and his wings are forgotten. However, the couple becomes rich on the admission to see him. Caught somewhere between humanity the supernatural, the old man stays with the couple.
For several years, the old man stays in the chicken coop until it collapses. He moves to the adjacent shed, and even, to the distraction of the wife, wanders through the house at times. The old man begins to build his strength and his feathers begin to grow in. He begins to sing sea shanties to himself.
Soon after, the wife works in the yard and the old man spreads his wings and flies off into the skies.
The story illustrates “man’s inhumanity to man.” From the beginning, the old man is poorly treated. No compassion comes from the family that becomes wealthy by using the old man as a side show. He stays in the dirty chicken coop, eating poorly with really no kind human contact. How can these people treat this unique individual with such disdain?
Obviously, there is a reason that the angel remains with the couple. Even the wife feels a moment of regret while she watches the angel fly away.
The priest does a disservice to the people, the angel, and the couple when he does not remind them of the Biblical verse which states: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels."
This should have been the mantra that the villagers and the couple lived by. This was an opportunity to take care of an “angel.” Instead, he is treated as though he were an animal. Pelayo shows the most compassion and demonstrates his love for his family.
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