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In "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings", what is the symbolic meaning of the old man?

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bob-marley | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:14 AM via web

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In "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings", what is the symbolic meaning of the old man?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:32 AM (Answer #1)

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Your question seems to raise a much larger issue about how we as readers interpret and assign symbols to objects and characters in our often futile attempts to make meaning of what we read.

I think one of the joys of this short story is that it defies interpretation. You need to note how the villagers are often exposed as foolish and gullible in their beliefs, and also how they try to make sense of the world. They stick fast to "facts" even though they are clearly ridiculous, such as the fact that angels eat mothballs, and they jump to impossible conclusions, for example when some argue that the old man should be proclaimed "mayor of the world." It is almost as if once they have conceived of an idea they make reality "fit" to support that idea despite any protestations to the contrary - or until a "better" version of the "truth" comes along and then the process beings again. Of course, the villagers, although they can be said to be figures of fun in this sense, contain many characteristics which we can identify whatever our time or culture - for example the unquestioning belief in their own wisdom and their stubborn clinging to their own ideas are aspects which we can all identify.

It is clear though that while there are a few hints into this story as to the "meaning" or "allegory" there are no conclusive pointers that give one definitive explanation. We are left, much like the villagers therefore, to try and make some sort of meaning from these strange and bizarre events. The last laugh seems to be with Marquez, however, as we prove ourselves to be like the villagers trying to make sense of this story and coming up with very different and ridiculous answers. Therefore, if there is a "meaning", it is that there is no "meaning" - it is more about the process by which we make "meaning" and how we support our conclusions.

So I am not going to answer your question, as I think if you do try to summarise the angel's symbolic significance you are falling into precisely the kind of trap that Marquez wants you to fall into!

 

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