A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Characters

Characters

The old man is the story's central character and its central mystery. He is given no name but is precisely described in the title, which includes everything that can be said about him with any assurance: he is an extremely old man, in failing health, with all the frailties and limitations of human old age, and he has a huge pair of bird's wings growing from his back. Readers follow the other characters in their comic efforts to explain him, to assign some "meaning" to his sudden appearance, and finally to just put up with his annoying presence. But when he flies away at the story's end, the mystery remains.

The very idea of a "winged humanoid" evokes the image of angels, and most of the "wise" villagers quickly assume that he is an angel. But everything about him seems to contradict traditional stereotypes of heavenly power and immortal perfection. When Pelayo, the town bailiff, first finds him in the courtyard, apparently blown out of the sky by a strong rainstorm, his condition is pathetic: he lies "face down in the mud," "dressed like a ragpicker," and tangled in his half-plucked, bug-infested wings. The narrator tells readers directly that this "pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather had taken away any sense of grandeur he might have had." Father Gonzaga, the village priest, underscores the point later, when he observes that "nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels." Nor do the villagers allow him any dignity or respect; throughout the story, they treat him "without the slightest reverence." He is displayed like a circus animal or sideshow freak; poked, plucked, and prodded; branded with a hot iron; pelted with stones and garbage; and held prisoner for years in a filthy, battered chicken coop, exposed to the elements. Though he is the source of the family's great fortune, Elisenda, the wife of Pelayo and the one who first conceives of charging the villagers admission to see the "angel," comes to find him an intolerable annoyance, becoming "exasperated and unhinged" by his presence. He is understandably "standoffish" toward people, tolerating only the company of the couple's young child. The villagers come to think of him as "a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals."

Eventually, another star attraction, the spider-woman, relieves the old man from the villagers' attention. The centerpiece of a traveling carnival, the "woman who had been changed into a spider for disobeying her parents" proves to be a more popular attraction than the old man, causing the villagers to lose interest in him and putting an end to Pelayo and Elisenda's profitable courtyard business. As a young girl, the spider-woman had once gone dancing all night against her parents' wishes; later, while walking home, she was allegedly struck by lightning and transformed into "a frightful tarantula the size of a ram . . . with the head of a sad maiden." Compared to the baffling old man, the spider-woman provides a far more satisfying spectacle. While she is at least as grotesque and fantastic as the "birdman," she charges a lower admission price. More importantly, she is willing to communicate freely with her visitors, recounting her sad experience and inspiring sympathy for her fate. The "meaning" of her story is easy to grasp and teaches a clear moral lesson—one that confirms the villagers' conventional beliefs. In contrast, the old man makes no attempt to explain himself and seems to contradict all religious and folk beliefs about the nature...

(The entire section is 1421 words.)

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Character Analysis

Elisenda

In her marriage to Pelayo, Elisenda takes an active part in decision-making. Her husband runs to get her as soon as he discovers the old man, and they try to make sense of him together, apparently sharing the same reactions. It is she who first conceives of charging the villagers admission to see the ‘‘angel,’’ an idea which makes the couple wealthy. At the end of the story, she is the mistress of an impressive mansion, dressed in the finest fashions. Yet the old man seems to be a constant annoyance to her, a feeling that only intensifies over time. He is useless and infuriating to her, ‘‘dragging himself about here and there like a stray dying man’’; she seems to be constantly shooing him out of her way. She eventually grows so ‘‘exasperated and unhinged '' that she screams that she is living in a ''hell full of angels.’’ Elisenda is also the only witness to the old man's departure, watching silently from the kitchen window as he tries out his newly regrown wings. Her reaction as he disappears over the horizon shows a measure of sympathy for the ‘‘senile vulture,’’ as well as her hope that her own life will return to normal: she lets out a sigh of relief ''for herself, and for him.’’

(The entire section is 217 words.)

Father Gonzaga

A former woodcutter, Father Gonzaga is the village priest whose religious training and standing in the community make him a moral and intellectual authority. Of all the characters, he seems uniquely qualified to pass judgment on the strange visitor and to determine whether he is really one of God's angels or ‘‘just a Norwegian with wings.’’ However, his understanding of church doctrine leads him to no solid conclusions. He counsels the villagers to withhold their own judgment until he can receive a definitive answer from scholars in the Vatican. Father Gonzaga is never able to provide an explanation, and he loses sleep over the mystery until his parishioners eventually lose interest in the old man entirely.

Examining the angel-like creature, Father Gonzaga immediately suspects that he is ''an impostor.’’ The old man's unbearable odor, his derelict condition, and his undignified appearance all make him seem ''much too human'' to accept as a perfect immortal or member of a divine race. But rather than make a judgment from the evidence of his senses (and knowing that the devil likes to trick people with appearances), he applies a series of tests to the old man, presumably based on church teachings about the nature of angels. First, he greets the old man in Latin; the lack of a response is yet another suspicious sign, for it shows that the ''angel’’ doesn't ‘‘understand the language of God or know how to greet His ministers.’’ A series...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Pelayo

It is Pelayo, the town bailiff, who discovers the old man with wings struggling face down in the courtyard of his home after a storm. As the strange visitor begins to attract crowds, Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda, exhibit him as a carnival attraction. Though the old man proves to be only a temporary sensation, he creates a highly profitable windfall for the young couple. In ''less than a week they had crammed their rooms with money’’ from paid admissions; they quickly earn enough to rebuild their house as a mansion and to live in luxury by village standards. Pelayo quits his job and sets up a rabbit warren on the edge of town, trading a minor administrative position for the leisurely life of a gamekeeping squire. While Pelayo's discovery of the winged being brings him great fortune, it also brings confusion and complication into his life. It is not the sort of luck he hopes to see repeated. When he and Elisenda design their new home, they are careful to include ‘‘iron bars on the windows so that angels wouldn't get in.’’

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Spider-woman

The centerpiece of a traveling carnival, the ''woman who had been changed into a spider for disobeying her parents’’ proves to be a more popular attraction than the old man, causing the villagers to lose interest in him and putting an end to Pelayo and Elisenda's profitable courtyard business. As a young girl, she had once gone dancing all night against her parents' wishes; later, while walking home, she was allegedly struck by lightning and transformed into ''a frightful tarantula the size of a ram ... with the head of a sad maiden.'' Compared to the baffling old man, the spiderwoman provides a far more satisfying spectacle. While she is at least as grotesque and fantastic as the "bird-man," she charges a lower admission...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

The old man is the story's central character and its central mystery. He is given no name but is precisely described in the title, which includes everything that can be said about him with any assurance: he is an extremely old man, in failing health, with all the frailties and limitations of human old age, and he has a huge pair of bird's wings growing from his back. We follow the other characters in their comic efforts to explain him, to assign some ''meaning'' to his sudden appearance, and finally to just put up with his annoying presence, but when he flies away at the story's end, the mystery remains.

The very idea of a ''winged humanoid'' evokes the image of angels, and most of the "wise" villagers quickly assume...

(The entire section is 1185 words.)

Other Characters

Bird-man
See Very old man with enormous wings.

Old man
See Very old man with enormous wings.

(The entire section is 17 words.)