A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez
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How does "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," a story woven around an angel fallen to earth, reveal the truth about human nature?

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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings ” is a social commentary on some of the baser characteristics of humanity. It is human nature to be fearful toward things that we do not understand, things that are different from us. The angel, though he is a divine being, cannot...

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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a social commentary on some of the baser characteristics of humanity. It is human nature to be fearful toward things that we do not understand, things that are different from us. The angel, though he is a divine being, cannot communicate with the people of the town and challenges their perceptions of religion and tradition, evidenced perhaps most explicitly by the Church’s query as to the resemblance of the angel’s speech to Aramaic (the language of Christ). The people pluck feathers from the sick old man’s wings to try and force him to conform to Biblical tales of healing in divine beings, rather than try themselves to understand the nature of his kind and where he came from. But perhaps the most emphatic example of this idea is the comparison of the spectacle of the angel to that of the woman who had been turned into a giant tarantula. The people were able to communicate with the latter creature, and she expressed a “heartrending…sincere affliction with which she recounted the details of her misfortune.” The absurdity of the sympathy offered this horrid spider who was being punished for her sins, when compared to the impatience, suspicion, and shocking violence directed toward an angel, a holy creature, is testament to the fearful depravity of humanity, and our quickness to condemn anything that is not like ourselves.

The story also implies that humans are too wrapped up in their own personal problems and aspirations to notice those who are suffering around them. Indeed, they are more likely to exploit those people in order to achieve these aspirations and remedy these problems. Instead of attempting to help this poor fallen angel, Pelayo and Elisenda capitalize on his misery and charge admission for the townspeople to see him. They then renovate their home with the earnings, all the while leaving the angel to wallow in the chicken coop in abject misery. Instead of facing the old man with compassion, they see him as a bother, and Elisenda is relieved when he finally fledges and flies away, because then, “he was no longer an annoyance in her life.” The irony of this all-too-human perspective is perhaps best evinced by her exclamation, as the old man is wandering ceaselessly through the house, that it is “awful living in that hell full of angels.” Garcia Marquez is stating that humans refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, and view the world from their own selfish perspective. The things and people most in need are therefore identified as annoyances, as direct causes of misery and unhappiness, when in fact it is often our own negligence toward them that has put them in this position.

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