What would be a good topic to use for a literary analysis of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings? What would be some possible arguments for this analysis?

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herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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One of many topics that can be extrapolated for analysis in the story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is the treatment of the elderly. You could theorize that the way the "very old man" was treated by the society of the village may be a reflection of the overall tendency of modern society to abandon and mistreat our elderly. 

Think about the concept of an "angel". Angels are often considered to be child-like and youthful, which is representative of their relative innocence. The "angel" in "A Very Old Man" is nothing of the like: He smells bad, is gritty, cruddy,odd, wild-looking, and his age holds none of the dignity and sophistication that grace the elderly. He is made to live outside in a dirty chicken coop where he is treated like an animal. 

How much of this trend is also evident in real life? That is the question that could drive your argument forward. While the story does not have any other instance of mistreatment of the elderly, the particular treatment of the angel, and the depiction of him as a "very old man", makes us wonder to what point this story is more of a social commentary than a mere magical realism story to entertain. 

He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn't get up, impeded by his enormous wings.

Therefore, what would have been different in this story if the angel were a cupid-like baby? What if it had been a child? Would people be concerned about mistreating an old, scraggy man the way they would have been concerned about mistreating a young kid? What are the double standards of society regarding age?  Those are the essential questions to validate your argument. 

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jpatricolo94 | Student, College Sophomore | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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When we look at Marquez's A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings we see the reaction a society has to a mysterious and unknown creature; to an outsider, to someone they do not understand. The entire story is Marquez's own critique on the harsh realities of society, how society treats things foreign, different, and misunderstood as freak shows until society easily grows bored and moves on to another victim. The winged man confuses the townspeople not only because he has giant wings on his back, but also because his appearance is in contrast with what they all believed an angel would look like. This man smells, he's dirty, and he cannot talk the way they can. He is different. So what do they do? Well they certainly don't try to talk with him or set him free. No, instead they put him up for display and sell tickets. Instead of realizing how marvelous the man truly is, they treat him like an animal and he suffers greatly for a very long time until the public loses interest. What we draw from this is the topic of society and its cruel nature towards all things different and foreign, and we see this in the way the man is treated by the public.  

"Then they felt magnanimous and decided to put the angel on a raft with fresh water and provisions for three days and leave him to his fate on the high seas. But when they went out into the courtyard with the first light of dawn, they found the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the angel, without the slightest reverence, tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if he weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal." (Marquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings)

This quote perfectly articulates the assertion of society's true nature. The people stare at the winged man, toss things at him, and treat him quite literally like a "circus animal." Even Elisenda and Pelayo originally planned on releasing the man until they realize the killing they can make off of displaying him. Father Gonzaga also falls in with the rest of society, deeming this mysterious man an impostor because he does not fit his expectation of what an angel would be like.

"The parish priest had his first suspicion of an impostor when he saw that he did not understand the language of God or know how to greet His ministers. Then he noticed that seen close up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels." (Marquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings)

The Father's angels speak latin and are beautiful creatures, but this man is dirty, smelly, and speaks a language none of the people have heard before. Even a man of God, who we initially hope to be the one to recognize the true marvel in this winged man, lets us down. 

Society's true colors are definitely highlighted in Marquez's A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. The winged man is different and he does not live up to the people's expectations of angels, so they cage him, profit from him, tease and torture him until they move on to the next freak, and condemn him to a long time of suffering. 

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