Do you think the character in Marquez's story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" was an angel or just a very old man? Does the distinction matter?

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Garcia Marquez’s story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” has fantasy and reality elements.  Many of the events in the story fall in the realm of reality yet contain supernatural elements. This is what makes the story's genre magical realism. The subject of the story appears to fall somewhere between human and angel. On the other hand, the only logical explanation has to be that this was an angel who came to earth for some unknown reason. 

His treatment is beyond understanding. The theme of the story illustrates the axiom: Man’s inhumanity toward man. When he first comes, his suffering calls out for help from the human beings around him. Nothing is ever done to truly abate his problems.

His only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience.  Especially during the first day, when the hens pecked at him, and the cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts… the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing.  The only time they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers.   

The neighbor suggests that the old man is an angel who came to help the main characters’ son who was ill.  After he is there for a night, the child seems to recover.  The priest, on the other hand, thinks that the man could not be an angel since he does not understand Latin and seems too human.  In addition, the man did not measure up to what an angel should be. 

The angel’s unflattering appearance may have been a test for the people who found him.  He is filthy, lacking hair and teeth with parasites covering the angel’s wings.  Still, the angel is an inspiring character.  People come from all over the area to look at the angel and hopefully be healed. The author calls the old man an angel several times in the story, which indicates that Marquez intends for the man to be considered an angel. The old man does nothing to try to influence people; he only wants to find some way to be comfortable in his despicable surroundings.

Because of the interest in the angel, Pelayo and his wife become rich from the fees they charge for people to see the him.  They build a new house and create a better life for their family.  The only thing that is not improved is the chicken coop.  They did burn incense in it to kill the stench for themselves, but not for the angel's benefit.  Finally, the chicken coop collapses and the angel searchs for someplace to stay.  He tries to find a place in the house but the couple drives him out with a broom. 

As time goes by, the angel’s health improves. The couple does nothing to help him, but the feathers of his wings begin to grow regardless.  The wife was outside when the angel flew away.  He had to make a few attempts to try to fly. As she watches him fly away, the wife thinks that he will no longer be an annoyance in her life.

Having an opportunity to have an angel in a family’s life would be a marvelous experience. This couple and the people of the village only look at him and try to gain monetarily what they can from having him in their lives. The treatment given him by the couple indicates their inhumanity.  Nothing is done to really help the poor angel.  His management is shameful.

The old man may represent the misunderstanding of the reality of an angel.  His human like qualities are surprising to the religious authority and the people as well. His appearance may have been a test for the human beings to see what kind of treatment that he would receive.

Read the study guide:
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question