A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez

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What is satire, and how is it used in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"?

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Liesl Johnson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In literature, satire is the use of humor or exaggeration to call attention to the faults or foolishness of people, societies, habits, and so on. For example, when you read Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron,” you can tell that he’s using satire, because he’s showing us this funny, highly exaggerated society in which people are so obsessed with ensuring equality among themselves that they make the most handsome people wear stupid-looking accessories, like big red clown noses. That’s ridiculous, and it shows how we’re obsessed with equality to the point of foolishness, so it’s satire.

(By the way, I’ve used “satire” as a noun so far, but it can also be a verb: we can say that Vonnegut satires society. More commonly, though, we use “satirize” as the verb, like this: “Vonnegut satirizes society in his stories.”)

Satire pops up often in stories by Gabriel García Márquez. Márquez’s story, “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” uses satire in two main ways, as I see it. The story satirizes the foolish things that members of the Catholic church do, and it satirizes the foolish things that many people in the general population do.

We see the story portraying the Catholic church as ridiculous: Father Gonzaga wastes time with correspondence with his superiors and with attempting to answer meaningless questions about the “angel” instead of trying to help him or figure out why he’s there.

They spent their time finding out if the prisoner had a navel, if his dialect had any connection with Aramaic, how many times he could fit on the head of a pin, or whether he wasn't just a Norwegian with wings.

And we see the story portraying regular human habits as ridiculous, too.

The “wise neighbor woman” who knows “everything about life and death” immediately tells Pelayo to club the angel to death, an act that would have been senselessly violent, not to mention hasty. This “wise” woman also wants to feed mothballs to the angel. How ridiculous! But we all make dumb suggestions from time to time, and we all pretend to know more than we actually do, and so the author is satirizing those human tendencies.

The doctor who tends to Pelayo’s sick child as well as the angel becomes so befuddled by the angel’s wings that “he couldn’t understand why other men didn’t have them too.” That’s ridiculous, too, but don’t we all do that? Don’t we all counter confusion sometimes by lazily dismissing the whole mystery with an “oh, well, that’s just how it is”?

And we can all identify with Elisenda, who finds the angel “an annoyance in her life” rather than a mystery or a miracle. Here, the author satirizes our habit of dismissing what’s amazing in life, focusing instead on small, immediate, unimportant experiences, like chopping up onions for dinner.

To sum that up, the story satirizes human foolishness and the foolishness of the Catholic church by portraying both of them in a funny, exaggerated way.

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Satire means making fun of things in order to show their flaws and (ideally) improve them. Teasing someone for being new in school wouldn't be satire; it would simply be mean. However, exaggerating some social stupidity to show what was wrong with it would be satire.

In this story, my favorite example of satire is when the priest tries to speak to the "angel" in Latin, assuming that the language of the medieval church would somehow be a divine language.

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bmalvolta | Student

satire is the act fo making fun of something or someone! - In this story the author is making a satire out of the church! the priest represent the church and yet when he confronts the angel he did couldnt provide any answers and instead he tried talking to him in latin by saying thats the language of god and that he would know at least how to greet his misisters!!!! Pretty funny because he is the one who suppose to have faith right?> and yet because the 'angel' did not look exactly what he expected him ( clean, beautiful) he refused to believe.! its like  the church is being cynical/ hypocrite!

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