What is the human condition found in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel García Márquez?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several aspects of the human condition highlighted in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel García Márquez.

Perhaps the first is seen when Pelayo first sees the man and shows his wife. After a short time, he doesn't seem so strange:

They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar.

This happens when strangers meet—first with caution, but soon a sense of commonality. Another aspect of the human condition is perception. A neighbor is called in; she immediately announces:

He's an angel...

But the woman sees the "angel" as a "fugitive survivor...of a celestial conspiracy," believing he should be beaten to death, but Pelayo and Elisenda (his wife) refuse. Like people in general, the woman responds spontaneously—failing to collect facts and acting superstitiously—ignorant of the possible truth.

Typical of humans, other people arrive with ideas to make the man useful to them: make him ruler of the world; make him a military leader "to win all wars;" or, "put [him] to stud" to father a race of "winged wise men" to rule the earth. When Father Gonzaga arrives, he does study God's word, but simply reacts. The old man does not "understand the language of God" (Latin), so the priest believes he is "an impostor." Because the old man does not look like an angel (but how many angels has the priest seen?), he dismisses the winged man. There are several Biblical allusions in the story. One refers to the presence of angels on earth:

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2, NIV)

Ironically, the priest who should be charitable, who should look for angels and be prepared to welcome all of God's creatures—angel or not—rejects the old man.

Life improves for the poor Pelayo and his wife—vast numbers of people pay to see the strange man with the wings—they become rich. This is also reflective of the human condition: curiosity is inherent in people. However they show him no respect, treating him like a circus attraction.

Before long, there is another creature that draws attention away from the old man. This is also typical of the world: someone or some thing may create a sense of amazement or even morbid interest, remaining so only until something better comes along, and people move on to the next "sensation:"

It so happened that during those days, among so many other carnival attractions, there arrived in town the traveling show of the woman who had been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents.

This new phenomenon releases the angel from so much attention: the cost to see the woman is less, and the people are allowed to speak to her and question her. The humans are touched more by the awful manner in which the woman lives—in which they (ironically) see "so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson..."

The people fail to see truth or beauty in the angel (except the doctor, who marvels at the "logic of his wings"). When the old man suddenly takes to flight one day, Elisenda watches him go with relief: he is no longer a burden. This also is an aspect of the human condition: it is easier to be uninvolved—to ignore someone rather than stop, become acquainted, and find value even in one's uniqueness. In some ways it is easier for the world to accept the common—even though (ironically) the world often harshly judges conformity.

Read the study guide:
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

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