What is the significant about the villagers' fascination with the spider-maiden?

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The short story "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marques tells of an old man with literal wings who is forced to land in the yard of some poor villagers, Pelayo and Elisenda, during a violent rainstorm. A neighbor identifies the old man as an angel, yet Pelayo and Elisenda close him up in their chicken coop, and instead of helping him, villagers from all around come to gawk at him. They throw him food and poke at him as if he were a circus animal. The local priest writes the Vatican to ask the Pope what to do, but he receives no answer.

Eventually, a traveling show arrives with a tarantula, or giant spider, that is "the size of a ram and with the head of a sad maiden." She tells her audience that she has been changed into this shape because she disobeyed her parents and went to an all-night dance without permission.

The fascination of the villagers for the spider woman is significant for several reasons. First of all, it shows clearly that they are interested in the old man not because he is an angel and has spiritual authority, but because he is a grotesque curiosity. As soon as they hear of something newer and stranger, they rush off to see it. This exposes the hypocrisy of their religious pretensions. The old man with wings is a mystery that they cannot comprehend, whereas the superstitious villagers can more easily relate to a maiden being cursed for disobeying her parents. Additionally, even though the spider-maiden has an even stranger appearance than the old man, the villagers are drawn to her because she speaks a language they can understand, whereas the old man's language is incomprehensible. The priest, in fact, questions the old man's spirituality when he finds out the old man doesn't know Latin, which the priest considers the language of God.

In summary, the spider-maiden is put into the story to contrast the reactions of the villagers and expose their motivations for how they treat the old man with wings.

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