What is the symbolic significance of the old man and his enormous wings? Since he’s called an "angel", is there a religious significance to his physical appearance? Why does the narrator stress such details as his "dirty and half-plucked" wings and his grossly physical, animalistic traits? How is the oxymoron "fresh-and-blood angel" central to the meaning?
This story makes us ask ourselves about contemporary morality and religious belief. Gabriel García Márquez set this story in a village in his native Colombia, an area that would have been overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. The man with wings is an ambiguous figure. People raised on Christian iconography would immediately wonder if the old man was an angel, but other than in his possessing wings, he is quite dissimilar to angels as they were romanticized in the twentieth century church. He is old and shabby, a downtrodden creature appearing to the poor and destitute as one of their own, just as Jesus was a poor carpenter.
Instead, he is more like the Biblical concept of the angel (a Greek term meaning messenger), something that somehow conveys a message from God to humans. In this case, the message is not a dogma, but rather a reflection; the old man reveals to the people their own nature as cruel and materialistic.
The notion of a flesh and blood angel refers to incarnational theology, i.e. that Jesus was God made flesh. This is the central mystery of Christianity, of how Jesus can be God and man, infinitely great and humble. The old man is similarly a humble physical creature, frail and shabby, not bearing a great proclamation but rather bringing the hidden goodness or badness of people to the surface by the simple fact of his existence.
The center of this story is the dark side of human behavior - hypocrisy, greed, fear and paranoia. The old man represents humanity, but his wings suggest that he has escaped, flown above the crowd. He is an old man instead of a young man because the elderly should be respected for their wisdom - but as is often the case - they are often shunted aside by the selfish young. His wings also connect him to innocence and spirituality because a man with wings is often intrepreted to be an angel. And he is innocent, having done nothing to harm the people of the community. However, the fact that his wings are in such bad shape suggest that he is fallen, and thus the spirituality of the people has fallen.
By being a fresh and blood angel, he shows the good and bad of humanity. When the old man arrives, Elisenda and Pelayo plan to kill him, but Pelayo doesn't have the heart for it. He shows compassion. But he does lock the man up and his wife does plot to make money off the deal. They benefit from the man but do not appreciate his presence. However, their child is the only one who appears to treat the man well. Good and bad, a contradiction - just like they oxymoron of his appearance.