A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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Compare the characteristics of the spider woman and the old man.

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The old man isn't actively pretending to be an angel, but due to his wings, he is certainly believed to be one by many. The spider woman, on the other hand, is a fraud, a charlatan, a confidence trickster. She immediately spots a gap in the market and exploits it to the fullest. She sees straightaway that the pilgrims who come to see her demand results from their faith, and she sets out to give them what they want.

Over time, the old man proves unable to perform the kind of wondrous miracles people expect from an angel. This creates an opportunity for the spider woman, who soon attracts visitors from far and wide, dispensing glib platitudes and passing them off as profound nuggets of wisdom. Here, Marquez appears to be satirizing a particular kind of folk-religion, one that is amenable to being exploited for personal gain by all manner of hucksters and con-artists.

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The old man and the spider woman are similar in that they are both transgenic creatures. The old man is part human and part flying creature; perhaps he is an angel, but I don't believe that based on the existence of the spider woman. If a woman can exist that is part spider and part human, then I think a part human and part bird creature also makes sense. A physical difference between the two is their percentage of the other creature. The old man is described to us as an old man that happens to have wings. That contrasts sharply with the spider woman. She is mostly a spider that happens to have the head of a human. This difference is even indicated in their names. He is an old man with wings; the human part leads. The other is a spider with a human head; the non-human part leads. Another key difference is that the spider woman is completely able to share her story and willing to do so. The old man with wings is unable to communicate his story. It's either because he speaks a language that nobody understands or because he is simply making unintelligible noises.

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Gabriel García Márquez provides a comparison between the spider woman and the old man with wings in his story “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” When comparing the two characters it is important to remember the genre is magical realism.

The old man, who has a pair of feather wings growing out of his back, appears after a storm at sea. He is unable to communicate because he speaks in an unfamiliar seafarer’s dialect. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to his existence. The members of the small community think he is an angel, but even the village priest is unable to verify this.  People pay to visit and gawk at the old man as he becomes a curiosity.  This makes Pelayo and Elisenda rich, prosperous people. At times he is kept as an animal and put on display, yet he seems to have some power over the well-being of Pelayo and Elisenda’s child. When the child is sick, the old man suffers until both he and the child recover.

The spider woman is also a curiosity who travels with a freak show. She can explain how her actions caused her to morph into an entity who is part woman, part spider. Her ability to tell the story of how she disobeyed her parents, and was turned into a being with the body of a large spider attached to a human head makes her captivating to those who listen to her story. This takes attention away from the old man with wings. People were drawn to her, and were willing to pay to hear her story, which is in contrast to the old man's inability to communicate his background.

In both cases, the characters contribute to the genre of magical realism.



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