A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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In "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," how do characters interpret the winged man?

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The winged man is described as having a "thousand-year-old face" and being covered in white feathers. His wings are described as having a span of nine feet, and being translucent with red veins running throughout them. The winged man is first seen by Pelayo, who calls out to his neighbor Elisenda (whose sick child the winged man has come to heal) that "He’s coming! He’s coming! Look!" but she is unable to see him. When she finally does see him, we learn that "Elisenda had the sensation that her whole body was freezing cold."

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When Pelayo first sees the winged man "moving and groaning in the rear of the courtyard," he has no idea what he is exactly, but he does consider him to be something out of a nightmare. He calls his wife to come and look, and she too is dumbfounded and...

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unable to identify the creature.

Pelayo and Elisenda's "wise neighbor woman" is then invited to take a look at the winged man, and her reaction is to claim that "He's an angel" who must have been coming to take Pelayo and Elisenda's sick child.

The rest of the neighborhood at first treats the winged man like "a circus animal," and accordingly toss him things to eat. They interpret him as not much more than a distracting spectacle that they can enjoy before the next one comes along.

Father Gonzaga is skeptical as to whether the creature is an angel, and seems to interpret the winged man instead as some kind of agent of the devil's. He duly reminds the people of the neighborhood that "the devil had a bad habit of making use of carnival tricks in order to confuse the unwary."

Once word of the winged man spreads, people come from far and wide with ailments that they think or at least hope he can cure. They think of the winged man as some kind of supernatural being with the power to heal, and so they come "in search of health."

The bishops in Rome, who Father Gonzaga writes to regarding the winged man, write back to suggest that the creature might be an angel, or equally might be "just a Norwegian with wings."

By the end of the story, as the winged man flies away into the distance, becoming only "an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea," it is no clearer which of the characters came closest to the truth. The winged man's identity remains a mystery.

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Your original question had to be edited because it contained more than one question. Please do not ask multiple questions in future.

The surprising arrival of the man with wings leads to many different ideas about his reasons for being there and who he actually is. Pelayo and Elisenda for example, by ignoring the wings, conclude "quite intelligently" that he was a castaway from a shipwreck. The neighbour woman they call to take a look at the man says that he is an angel who is so old that the rain knocked him out of the sky. Father Gonzaga, on the other hand, "proves" that the man cannot be an angel because he does not understand Latin, and thus believes the man to be an "impostor" and not a real angel at all.

In every case, the ignorance of the village folk is shown as they try to interpret meaning in the appearance of this figure without having any idea of what it might mean. Their interpretations reveal more about their own ignorance than they do about the man himself.

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How does "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," a story woven around an angel fallen to earth, reveal the truth about human nature?

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a social commentary on some of the baser characteristics of humanity. It is human nature to be fearful toward things that we do not understand, things that are different from us. The angel, though he is a divine being, cannot communicate with the people of the town and challenges their perceptions of religion and tradition, evidenced perhaps most explicitly by the Church’s query as to the resemblance of the angel’s speech to Aramaic (the language of Christ). The people pluck feathers from the sick old man’s wings to try and force him to conform to Biblical tales of healing in divine beings, rather than try themselves to understand the nature of his kind and where he came from. But perhaps the most emphatic example of this idea is the comparison of the spectacle of the angel to that of the woman who had been turned into a giant tarantula. The people were able to communicate with the latter creature, and she expressed a “heartrending…sincere affliction with which she recounted the details of her misfortune.” The absurdity of the sympathy offered this horrid spider who was being punished for her sins, when compared to the impatience, suspicion, and shocking violence directed toward an angel, a holy creature, is testament to the fearful depravity of humanity, and our quickness to condemn anything that is not like ourselves.

The story also implies that humans are too wrapped up in their own personal problems and aspirations to notice those who are suffering around them. Indeed, they are more likely to exploit those people in order to achieve these aspirations and remedy these problems. Instead of attempting to help this poor fallen angel, Pelayo and Elisenda capitalize on his misery and charge admission for the townspeople to see him. They then renovate their home with the earnings, all the while leaving the angel to wallow in the chicken coop in abject misery. Instead of facing the old man with compassion, they see him as a bother, and Elisenda is relieved when he finally fledges and flies away, because then, “he was no longer an annoyance in her life.” The irony of this all-too-human perspective is perhaps best evinced by her exclamation, as the old man is wandering ceaselessly through the house, that it is “awful living in that hell full of angels.” Garcia Marquez is stating that humans refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, and view the world from their own selfish perspective. The things and people most in need are therefore identified as annoyances, as direct causes of misery and unhappiness, when in fact it is often our own negligence toward them that has put them in this position.

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What does the story "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" say about people?

The villagers in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" are portrayed as people who are overly stuck in their ways of living to the point of being oblivious of anything outside their immediate world. Such is the typical portrayal of life in a small, enmeshed, and isolated village, much like in the town of Macondo in Garcia's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

In "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," something extraordinary happens: a seemingly-otherworldly creature crashes in the backyard of Pelayo and Elisenda's house. By this time, the couple is too busy worrying about their baby's health, dead crabs in the house, and the constant rain. As such, their reaction to this unusual phenomenon will be quite telling.

Because they are so absorbed in the needs of their daily life, the way that they react to the creature, a very raggedy old man with huge wings, is by approaching him with the same inquiry methods that they would apply to any other thing: they stare, they make conjectures, and then they try to figure it out.

We could argue that this happens because their minds are too narrow, and too accustomed to their daily routines, to know the difference between something ordinary versus something extraordinary. Even though there is evidence in the text that supports the fact that the people do find the event curious enough to investigate, there is also evidence that shows that, regardless of that, the villagers have a tendency to absorb the new into the usual routine.

They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar.

Basically, the villagers lead such dull lives that they just blend the extraordinary event into their everyday situations, like nothing new has happened.

That was how they skipped over the inconvenience of the wings and quite intelligently concluded that he was a lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm

The villagers lack the sophistication and experience to deal with a one-of-a-kind phenomenon. They do the only thing they know how to do with something unfamiliar: they either kill it or trap it.

This is why the fantastic creature that lands in their backyard ends up being treated like yet another caged animal. They even consider killing it, for no reason at all. Their saving grace is that they do not do it.

They did not have the heart to club him to death. Pelayo watched over him all afternoon from the kitchen, armed with his bailiff’s club, and before going to bed he dragged him out of the mud and locked him up with the hens in the wire chicken coop.

The villagers are so unmindful of the whole situation that they even turn the creature into a diversion.

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.

Once again, this shows evidence of the dull, habitual, narrow-minded mentality that permeates the society of the village. It is a society that cannot fully appreciate an extraordinary event, due to the ordinary way that the people exist.

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What does the story "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" say about people?

Continuing that theme, humans are portrayed as having a short attention span.  We move from flashy item to flashy item as the people of the town, giving up interest in the old man for the new "spider woman".  Furthermore, humans take for granted the blessings in their life.  Although the angel has brought them wealth, Pelayo and Elisenda find him to be a nuisance in the end, and are sick of picking up feathers and having to look at him.

However, there is a shining moment at the end.  Even though the old man's health seems to be deteriorating, he is able to pull into himself once others have stopped troubling him.  He sings to himself and heals himself, finding individual strength.  At the end, he flies away and escapes the prison he has been trapped in.  Independence and freedom at celebrated by this symbolic character, but the others of the story have yet to find it, and are trapped in the prison and cycle of their own lives.

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