In "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, why does the angel appear in the form of a very old man?
I always enjoyed having students read this story because, in my opinion, it is a great example of a story for which readers may discover many different yet valid interpretations.
The angel in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is a mystery when he arrives, and he is a mystery when he leaves. One of the most troubling mysteries concerning the angel is why he is so old and weak, as these are not attributes that people often associate with angels.
One possible interpretation is that he really is very old. Thus, he appears in the form of a very old man because he is a very old angel. His weakness and the eccentric nature of the miracles he performs seem to support this view. And while this interpretation runs contrary to the ideal of angels as possessing strength and eternal youth, perhaps this is what Garcia Marquez wanted the reader to realize -- that angels are not what we think they are, and they can grow old a weary from their labors.
Another interpretation is that the angel appears as a weak and very old man as a test for the people of the house and the town. People who follow Christian beliefs should treat the angel, or any very old man, with kindness and charity. Instead, they treat him little better than an animal, even going so far as turning him into a sideshow attraction. In return, they receive no benefit from his presence other than "consolation miracles, which were more like mocking fun." Perhaps had they treated him with the dignity and charity due to a person, let alone an angel, of his extreme age and weakness, they would have received greater benefit from his presence.
I mainly prefer the second interpretation, although evidence in the story can be found to support both, and perhaps others as well. A favorite of my students over the years has been that the very old man with enormous wings is not an angel at all, but rather is a mutant or alien. The evidence form the story seems more suggestive of angel than mutant or alien to my mind, but those interpretations make the age of the character less troublesome because a mutant or alien would more likely be subject to aging than an angel.