From the story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, explain the lines: "He awoke with a start, ranting in his hermetic language and with tears in his eyes, and he...

From the story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, explain the lines: "He awoke with a start, ranting in his hermetic language and with tears in his eyes, and he flapped his wings a couple of times which brought on a . . . cataclysm in response."

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The late Colombian author and journalist Gabriel Garcia Marquez was known for his surrealistic style of writing, as well as for his journalistic nonfiction depictions of his native land. His short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" fits neatly into his surrealistic fictional style. This particular story, however, also fits into something of an unofficial genre involving themes wherein the general populace is in dire need of spiritual rejuvenation or in need of a heroic figure onto which to cling for security or salvation and believes, incorrectly, that it has discovered some such figure. Films like Being There and Down and Out in Beverly Hills, to name just two, successfully depicted these situations, the former illuminating the perceived need for wise leadership, the latter for purity of soul. "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is about the discovery of an old, decrepit man with wings in whom the local population invest their hopes for some sign of divine presence. There is nothing save his wings to suggest anything magical or mystical about him--the popular perception is that, because of his wings, he is an angel--but he quickly becomes a symbol of hope and the elixir for the myriad ills brought before him.

The old man, it turns out, is apparently lacking in the mystical or spiritual powers that the local population assumes on his behalf. As Marquez's narrator notes, the old man's "only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience." In short, the masses are growing disillusioned, and the old man is growing increasingly irritable and lethargic. The narrator notes concerning the increasingly contentious relationship:

"The only time they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers, for he had been motionless for so many hours that they thought he was dead."

It is this passage that is immediately followed by the reference to the old man being awoken "with a start...." What, then, is the meaning behind Marquez's description of the old man's hermetic language and teary eyes and the flapping of his wings? The author is emphasizing the old man's weariness and frustration with being perceived as a form of deity to be exploited and, after the onset of disillusionment among the people, to be ridiculed and harassed.

Stories such as those referenced above and Marquez's invariably display the disillusionment of the populace when the hoped-for deity or hero is revealed to be imperfect. The proverbial idol with feet of clay has proven a resilient theme for many stories over the years, beginning, obviously, with the Bible. Marquez's very old man with enormous wings is just that: an old man with wings, and, apparently, nothing more.

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