What is Marquez saying about the rules governing miracles in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” focuses on a family’s experiences after they find an old man with enormous wings lying face down in the mud in their courtyard. The family, as well as others who come in contact with the old man, struggle to understand what he is. They want to believe that he is an angel, but other than having wings and performing some “consolation” miracles, the old man does not fit their understanding of what an angel would or should be.
One interpretation of the story is that the people in the story are so fixated on what they think they know about angels, and the obvious deficiencies of the old man when compared to this ideal image of an angelic being, that they cannot or will not comprehend that his very existence is a wonder, one which they should celebrate rather than criticize. The miracles that he is believed to have performed are of a similar nature:
[T]he few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder, like the blind man who didn’t recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn’t get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers. Those consolation miracles, which were more like mocking fun, had already ruined the angel’s reputation…
Like the existence of the old man, two of the three “consolation” miracles attributed to the old man are wonders (the blind man growing new teeth and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers), but they are not of the kind expected. The people in the story seem to want the old man to perform miracles that fit with their idea of what a miracle should be, and they are disdainful of the wonders that they do witness because those wonders are not what they think they should be.
Most readers will likely, at least a first, agree with the people in the story regarding the questionable angelic properties of the old man and his miracles. However, it seems likely that this is what Marquez intends as a response. He wants people to think about the nature of the wonders portrayed in the story, and how we might react to witnessing wonders that do not fit our preconceived notions. In this, Marquez is attempting to show us that miracles do not come to us as we ask for them, or as we think they should be, but as things that are unexpected and that may take effort to understand and appreciate.