Provide critical analysis and interpretation of the story " A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings." 

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" could have been called "An Angel comes to the Village." But this would defeat the purpose of the story. What is the purpose? One purpose is to present something miraculous in an ordinary way. Any man with wings is miraculous but the author presents it as if Pelayo and Elisenda had found a stray dog. When word spreads that the man might be an angel, people flock to have their ailments cured. "There was a man who couldn’t sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him." Here, the author presents an ordinary thing (insomnia) in poetic and/or extraordinary terms. These uses of presenting the miraculous as ordinary and vice versa are common elements in Magical Realism. This story is a prime example of this genre. It causes the reader to pause and consider if there is a meaningful difference between perceiving something miraculous as normal or extraordinary. 

Marquez makes us hesitate. This effect in literature would be considered a moment of defamiliarization. This is when we see familiar things in unfamiliar ways. There are multiple moments of these types of hesitation in this story when the reader stops in order to think about what is true, who the protagonist might be, and so on. The priest seems to be the expert in the matter, but nothing conclusive is given. When the spider woman comes to town, the villagers treat this as relatively normal. Again, the abnormal becomes normal and vice versa. 

The old man defies our preconceptions of what an angel should be. We must hesitate again. This is why the story is so effective. It causes the reader to stop and think. The narrator is unreliable as well. The author has given the reader the means of interpreting the story. That being said, there are clear hints in the story about characterization and plot that will help determine how readers interpret the story. The old man brings Pelayo and Elisenda money and they treat him poorly. The old man is therefore the unwitting protagonist and they take advantage. So, the alleged angel brings fortune to a young couple but this illustrates their greed. This is hardly a typical guardian angel story. 

This story is effective because it blends the abnormal with the normal seamlessly. It makes the reader question the notion of truth. Does it matter if he is an angel or simply a man with wings? Shouldn't we (villagers) treat him with respect regardless of whether or not he is supernatural? Because, in the end, don't we root for him anyway? 

A lot of authors who use Magical Realism come from Latin and South American cultures. One of the effects of Magical Realism, notably in this story, is that the notion of truth becomes subjective. It is as plausible that the man is an angel as it is that he simply is a man with wings. This style of telling a story is a different kind of fantasy. It is interesting to consider the notion that a scientific description of some phenomenon might be as "truthful" as a poetic portrayal. This is one of the attributes of Magical Realism in this story and other works of the genre. In the end, we might consider this a Magical Realist Schrödinger equation in which the man is both an angel and not an angel (just a man with wings). 


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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

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