A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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How does the author use irony (the incongruity between what appears to be and what actually is) in the story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”?

In “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” irony appears in the disparity between the old man’s appearance and his identification as an angel, in the villagers’ harsh treatment of this “angel,” and in the horrendous mistreatment of the man even if he is not really an angel.

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The irony in the story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” lies first in the identification of the mysterious man as an angel. Except for his wings, he is far from looking the part. He is ragged and dirty, pitiful with his wings missing feathers and covered in mud. He does not interact with Pelayo and Elisenda nor with any of the people who come to stare at him, and not even with the parish priest. If the man is an angel, he is certainly an ironic one, for his appearance does not match reality.

Further irony appears in the way the people of the village treat this mysterious “angel.” If they really believe the old man to be an angel, they certainly don’t behave like it. Pelayo and Elisenda keep him locked up in a chicken coop and later in an old shed. They want little to do with him although (again ironically) they are pleased enough with the money they make off him.

The villagers throw things at the old man, trying to get him to respond. They even burn him with a steer branding iron. This is certainly not the way people, especially those who claim to have faith in God, should behave if they really believe they are in the presence of an angel, God’s messenger; yet ironically, the villagers do exactly that.

Finally, there is a stark irony in the treatment of the old man even if he is not an actual angel. He is still a human being (presumably) who should be treated with respect and dignity. Yet no one does this, not even the parish priest, who never once objects to the villagers’ treatment of the old man. No one cares for him, cleans him up, or tries to speak to him with respect. They treat him like a mere object of profit or curiosity.

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