A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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What are the internal and external conflicts in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"?

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The most essential internal conflict in the story is the reaction of the old man with enormous wings to the world around him. Although the people around him lock him in a chicken coop and constantly harass him, he seems impervious to their molestations. All he wants to do is find comfort in his nest, though people place hot oil lamps in his cage and try to get him to consume mothballs. In the end, after suffering a mysterious illness and remaining unconnected to the world around him, he finally sprouts feathers and is able to fly away. His connection to the world has been tenuous at best, and he has finally decided to leave it.

The external conflicts involve the people around the man with enormous wings. Pelayo and Elisenda try to figure out the nature of the man who falls to the ground near their house. They determine that he is familiar enough to overlook his enormous wings and decide that he is a castaway rather than an angel. They eventually grow rich from the pilgrims who come to see their mysterious guest. The priests try to figure out if the mysterious man is truly an angel, and they await word from Rome. However, the angel's failure to cure people of their ailments makes people believe he is not, in fact, an angel. As the townspeople wrestle with what to make of the old man (which are the external conflicts in the story), he endures his own mysterious internal struggles until he is able to grow new feathers and escape.

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The story of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel García Márquez is an example of magical realism, in which the appearance of the mysterious winged man reveals the moral failure of the villagers he encounters, and especially their failure when measured against standards of Christian charity that form a moral backdrop for the story. The essential conflict in the story is that of how to respond to the appearance of the mysterious old man. 

In a sense, there is no real external conflict, for all though the old man is mistreated by the villagers, he does not harm them or struggle against them, but is passive, serving as a sort of mirror of their own understandings of their world.

The village priest Father Gonzaga, speaks to the man in Latin, and when the man does not understand the language, claims that the ignorance of Latin and the man's shabby condition prove he is not an angel. Of course, more sophisticated Christian theologians would consider Hebrew or an mysterious angelic form of communication, not Latin, to be the language of angels, and Jesus himself and his disciples were people of modest backgrounds rather than the rich and powerful. The conflict here is between the priest's confusion of holiness with wealth and outward display and a less worldly understanding of religion.

The villagers, in seeing the old man primarily in utilitarian terms, are also in conflict with a moral vision that judges people on their innate worth. In a sense, another central conflict is between that of the villagers who wish to shape and understand the old man according to their own needs and preconceptions and the irreducibly mysterious nature of the man himself. 

The internal conflicts of the old man are really not known as we do not as readers have access to his thoughts. His external struggles are to regain his health and escape. Pelayo and Elisenda have as internal conflicts their struggles to decide what to do with the old man. 

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