A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Characters

The main characters in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” are the old man, Pelayo, Elisenda, Father Gonzaga, and the spider woman.

  • The very old man with enormous wings is an unkempt old man with large wings. Pelayo finds him and turns him into a sideshow attraction, profiting off of people’s belief that the man is an angel.
  • Pelayo is the town’s bailiff. He finds the old man and puts him on display.
  • Elisenda is Pelayo’s wife.
  • Father Gonzaga is the local priest, who denies that the old man is an angel.
  • The spider woman was supposedly turned into a giant tarantula after disobeying her parents. 

Characters

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Last Updated on January 19, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1281

The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

The protagonist of the story, the old man is described as an ancient person with fogged-over eyes, very little hair, and gigantic bedraggled wings. He first appears in Pelyao’s courtyard, facedown in the sticky mud, struggling to rise up. It is unclear how the old man got there, but it is suspected he may be an angel who lost his way in a storm or fell down while coming to take Pelayo’s sick infant to heaven. The old man is passive and quiet, and speaks in a foreign language when he does talk. Since no one can make sense of the old man, Pelayo traps him in a chicken coop in his courtyard for years. When rumor spreads of an angel in Pelayo’s home, Pelayo’s wife, Elisenda, begins to charge people an admission fee to see the old man. Because the old man is aloof and strange-looking, the visitors are often very cruel to him, throwing stones at him and mocking him. They are disappointed that he does not perform the miracles they expect, such as giving sight to the visually impaired. The miracles the old man does seemingly perform, such as making sores bloom sunflowers, impress no one. Even the parish priest treats the old man with suspicion. By the end of the narrative, the fees from the old man’s viewings have made Pelayo and Elisenda rich. The old man falls sick again, recovers, and regains enough strength to fly away, much to Elisenda’s relief.

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While the narrative never clarifies if the old man is indeed an angel, it is implied that he is extraordinary. Pelayo and Elisenda’s fortunes change for the better with the old man’s appearance, and their son recovers twice from a serious illness in the presence of the old man. Yet, the central irony of the story is that most other characters remain apathetic to the goodness and power the old man symbolizes. They cage him as if he were an animal, mock him, and eventually forget about him as a new avenue for entertainment appears in town. The only two people who treat the old man with respect are the town doctor and Pelayo and Elisenda’s child. Thus, the old man is identified with reason (the doctor) and innocence (the child), showing that he is truly wise and pure. His ability to sprout feathers after everyone believes he may soon die symbolizes his potential for spiritual regrowth. He is the miracle of the everyday, but sadly the townspeople fail to acknowledge his potential.

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Pelayo

Pelayo is an important character in the narrative, the husband of Elisenda and a new father at the start of the tale. Pelayo lives in a small house by the shore in his seaside town. It is obliquely suggested that he may be a minor court official, since he possesses a “bailiff’s club.” It is Pelayo who finds the winged old man in his courtyard and locks him in the chicken coop. Pelayo treats the old man with neglect, if not cruelty, failing to realize the enormousness of his discovery of the extraordinary being. Even after the old man causes a change in Pelayo’s fortune through the viewing fees he brings in, Pelayo continues to treat him no better than an animal. As the tale ends, Pelayo ends up rich, quits his job as a bailiff, and sets up a rabbit farm. He and Elisenda convert their rundown house into a mansion. Yet, the irony is that though Pelayo’s external circumstances change, he undergoes no internal change. He remains a static character.

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Latest answer posted July 17, 2018, 11:05 pm (UTC)

2 educator answers

Symbolically, Pelayo represents the person who has witnessed true grace or inspiration—in the form of the old man—and chooses to squander it with apathy. Though Pelayo is a devoted father and husband, he is too small-minded to extend his care to those different from him, such as the old man. He does provide for the old man indirectly, but his care carries little meaning, as it is not very thoughtful.

Elisenda

Elisenda is married to Pelayo and is a new mother at the beginning of the tale. She is similar to her husband in her desires and temperament but is depicted even more uncharitably than he is. While Pelayo’s cruelty to the old man can be passive, Elisenda at times appears openly hostile toward him. Like Pelayo, Elisenda, too, disregards the miracle of the winged old man, concluding that he must be a shipwrecked sailor. When people begin visiting the old man, believing he is an angel, it is Elisenda who decides to take advantage of the situation and charge visitors an admission fee. This shows that Elisenda is practical and shrewd. After she and Pelayo become rich, she buys herself fine silks and shoes, which indicate her materialism and love for appearances. Despite making money through the old man, Elisenda never thanks him or treats him fairly. She regards him as an encumbrance and is relieved when he finally flies away. Strikingly, it is Elisenda who watches the old man take flight, a truly wondrous occurrence. But the sight does not move her, which shows she is too apathetic and mired in the mundane to note the real miracles happening around her. Her one redeeming feature is that she does breathe a sigh of relief for herself “and him” when the old man manages to gain altitude. This indicates that she is glad he is safe. However, she is too caught up in her everyday life to allow herself to grow into this sense of empathy. Overall, Elisenda is a static character who does not change over the course of the narrative, despite her change in fortune.

Father Gonzaga

The parish priest who examines the supposed angel, Father Gonzaga is shown to be unimaginative and pedantic. Márquez uses the character of Father Gonzaga to satirize the worst aspects of clerical organization. While the priest should ideally be the one who demands the old man be treated fairly, he poisons the townspeople against the old man, which possibly leads them to treat the old man with further derision. He seems unmoved by the sight of an old man crammed in a chicken coop, something which would have bothered a truly wise and empathetic person. Instead, he washes his hands of the old man’s fate and is described as being happy when the townspeople are distracted by the new attraction in town. Thus, he proves to be ineffective in solving anyone’s problems.

The Spider Woman

The girl who was cursed to become a spider functions as an important symbol in the tale. Though she is even stranger-looking than the old man, with her body of a tarantula and head of a maiden, she is treated somewhat better by the townspeople. This is because she speaks a language they understand and shares the story of her affliction with them. She was turned into a spider through a heavenly curse after disobeying her parents. For the townspeople, her willingness to communicate with them as well, as the palatable moral of her origin story, makes her more endearing than the old man. Thus, the spider woman symbolizes the fact that people prefer relatability over true mystery. The spider woman is a minor character and not given much agency, but it can be concluded that she, too, is a survivor of society’s cruelty. Unlike the old man, who has wings and thus hopes of flying away, the spider woman knows she has to exist in the world. Thus, she makes herself appealing to people in order to survive.

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