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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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Discussion Topic

The mystery and identity of the old man in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"

Summary:

The identity of the old man in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" remains ambiguous. Characters speculate whether he is an angel, a human, or something else entirely. His mysterious nature is central to the story, reflecting themes of faith, human nature, and the unknown.

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Is the man the real mystery in "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings"?

Here, it's not obvious whether you mean "man" in the sense of humanity as a whole or "the man" (with the article accidentally omitted) in reference to the old man with the wings.

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel García Márquez is an example of a genre called "magical realism" in which fantastic elements are introduced into everyday life. The old man is such an element.

The old man, who speaks no known language, and eventually is able to fly with his giant wings, is in one sense a mystery. He is both fantastic and puzzling to the villagers. On the other hand, that isn't really the point of the story which is more focused on how the villagers respond to his presence. Although he makes Pelayo and his wife wealthy, they do not react with gratitude, and though the villagers initially suspect the man of having a potentially angelic nature, they eventually mistreat him in the way they would a circus freak rather than seeing him as something beautiful or wonderful. Thus rather than being a mystery about the man with the wings, the story is more about the mystery of the inhumane nature of humanity. 

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What is the old man's true identity in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings?

The identity of the old man is never specified which is actually the purpose of the writer; to keep the genre of magical realism and the overall mysteriousness of the story. The man speaks in a strange language and can barely move around when he first appears in the story. The presence of normal looking wings first convince the villagers that he is an angel but the scruffiness and ragged appearance cause doubts on his being and existence as an angel. The main theme of the story is ambiguity and the writer deliberately refrains from directly stating what he really is. The aggrandized attraction he gets from the villagers first came from a rumor that he is an angel but Father Gonzaga quickly accuses the old man for being an 'imposter'. The debate and arguments regarding his identity is continued throughout the story but it is never revealed which contribute to the overall obscurity of the story.

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What role does the old man play in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"?

One role the old man plays in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is to symbolize the thematic issues of the story. For instance, he symbolically represents marginalized people or groups of people. He himself is marginalized because he (1) is alien to the villagers; (2) speaks an unknown language; (3) is old; (4) is ill and apparently disabled; (5) is inexplicable.

Marquez gave this marginalized man enormous wings so that he could be at once repulsive for his insects and uncleanliness and mysteriously great for his wings and angel status. This speaks of how marginalized people in our society seem loathsome and strange and inexplicable, yet have majesty, worth, greatness, power (even though latent), dignity, and potential. In other words, the marginalized have humanity.

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