A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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Critical Overview

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‘‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’’ was written in 1968, in the wake of its author's sudden fame. The story's timing has led some critics to suggest that it may, at least in part, be a comic treatment of Garcia Marquez's own experience as a writer, or an allegory for the condition of creative artists in general. In this reading, the old man represents the artist, and his experience in the village is a satirical account of the way a work is received by the public. While his wings mark him as extraordinary, in other ways he fails to meet the villagers' impossible expectations; and while they feel a need to account for him, this proves to be a difficult, complex, and uncertain task. Instead, they misinterpret him wildly, and abuse and exploit him as a carnival freak. By insisting on simple, dramatic "miracles" that fit comfortably with their beliefs, they give up all chance of understanding whatever "magic" he does possess and soon lose interest in him. However, it must be stressed that this is only one possible interpretation for this complex story. Other critics have argued that, however appealing, it is far too simple, "neat," and logical to fully account for a tale so rich in invention and suggestion; and even those who advance such a reading point out that is just one of several levels on which meaning can be found.

While Garcia Marquez's early short stories, written in the late 1940s and early 1950s, were generally considered unsuccessful for their overly self-conscious use of unconventional narrative techniques, his later stories employ many of the same narrative strategies that have made Garcia Marquez one of the twentieth century's most influential authors, prompting critics to compare him to the likes of William Faulkner and Franz Kafka.

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Essays and Criticism