What attitudes is Marquez criticizing?
With no fixed truth to his short story "A Very Old man with Emormous Wings," Gabriel Marquez complicates readers' efforts to assign explanations and morals to his narrative. Thus, with his depiction of characters, Marquez, in effect, satirizes the adherence to conventional wisdom, religious beliefs, and superstition.
Pelayo and Elisenda, his wife, are initially frightened by the old man lying face down in mud, impeded by his enormous wings. But, later
They looked at him so long and so closely that....very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him very familiar.
Once he is familiar to them, he is part of their world. So, Elisenda decides to charge admission to see him and make money. When this money-making venture succeeds, she is happy, but later Elisenda wearies of the old man's presence and wishes him gone because he is no longer popular.
When the people come to see the old man with enormous wings, they cannot understand him and are nonplussed, but after the appearance of the spider woman with the human head arrives and the people recognize the humanity in her and are allowed to ask her questions, the people feel that
[A] spectacle like that, full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat without every trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals.
After the neighbor woman is called upon by Pelayo and Elisenda to interpret the meaning of their strange guest, the old man is declared an angel who has been knocked down by the rain because he is so enfeebled and old. She suggests that this angel be beated to death because it is a "fugitive survivor of a celestial conspiracy"; however, Pelayo and his wife do not have the heart to kill him.
The superstition attached to the angel makes Pelayo and Elisenda famous. Yet, it also frustrates Elisenda who cries that "it was awful living in that hell full of angels" with an old one who is "delirious with the tongue twisters of an old Norwegian."
Since Marquez's Colombia has a mixture of superstition with religion, a priest is soon called upon to interpret the arrival of the angel. Father Gonzaga is reluctant to make any pronouncements on his own after the angel does not respond to Latin which every celestial being should know. Suspecting that the angel is an impostor, Father Gonzaga reminds Pelayo and Elisenda that the devil uses carnival tricks to confuse the unwary. He informs them that he will write a letter to his bishop so that he will write to the "Supreme Pontiff in order to get the final verdict from the highest courts." With this advice, Marquez clearly satirizes the bureaucratic hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
Along with these three areas of satire, with the subtitle being "A Tale for Children" Marquez suggests also that the characters in the story exhibit childish points of view toward the events that they witness.