A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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How is "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" a children's tale?

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The short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of a couple in a poor seaside village that discovers an old man with large wings in the courtyard of their house in the aftermath of a heavy rainstorm. The old man is injured and filthy, and he speaks in a language that they cannot understand. Although they recognize the possibility that the old man might be an angel, the couple locks him up in their chicken coop. The priest comes and inspects the old man, but because he cannot speak Latin, which the priest considers the language of God, the priest thinks that he may be sent from the Devil. He decides to write to higher Catholic authorities to get their opinion.

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The short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of a couple in a poor seaside village that discovers an old man with large wings in the courtyard of their house in the aftermath of a heavy rainstorm. The old man is injured and filthy, and he speaks in a language that they cannot understand. Although they recognize the possibility that the old man might be an angel, the couple locks him up in their chicken coop.

The priest comes and inspects the old man, but because he cannot speak Latin, which the priest considers the language of God, the priest thinks that he may be sent from the Devil. He decides to write to higher Catholic authorities to get their opinion.

When a crowd gathers, the couple realizes they can make money out of their captive visitor and charges admission to see him. This works well until a circus comes along with a more interesting attraction: a creature with the head of a young woman and the body of a spider. The old man eventually heals and flies away.

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is subtitled "A Tale for Children." This subtitle can be interpreted in two different ways. First of all, it can be taken literally. Children would be more likely than adults to accept the aspects of magic realism that Marquez has written into the story. They are often exposed to fairy tales, myths, and parables, and they would take this tale as one more example of these genres. Whether they would be able to derive lessons from it or not, they would find the story entertaining.

The subtitle can also be interpreted as another component of the satire that runs deeply through the story. In labeling his story a tale for children, Marquez may be intending to infer that the opposite is actually true. The story is not meant for children but for adults. It satirizes the narrow-minded viewpoint that sees the arrival of a stranger with wings not as a miracle but as a threat—and then as an occasion for profit. It ridicules the church for its anachronistic methods of judging the strange old man. It exposes the pettiness, selfishness, and greed of the villagers when they are confronted with something mysterious and marvelous. These are all insights that would be recognizable to adults, not children.

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Although the story may be subtitled "A Tale for Children," I do not believe that it is a story that is directly aimed at children. The story is a fairly dark look at humanity. The old man is poorly taken care of throughout the story, and Elisenda and Pelayo use the old man as a get-rich-quick tool. They feel no remorse, sorrow, or guilt over their actions. In general, I feel that the discussions this story sparks are much better suited for teenagers. However, the question does specifically ask how the story is a tale for children.

I think the story is a tale for children because it has several very strong pieces of fantasy in it. First, there is a man with enormous wings. Second, there is a woman that has been turned into a spider for disobeying her parents. Third, the sick girl miraculously gets better shortly after the man shows up. These are things that adult readers will question, but a child will take these instances of fantasy at face value. It makes sense to a child that a man could have wings, that a woman could be changed into an animal, and that a child could magically become better with no explanation. Additionally, the plot of the story is not difficult to understand. There is not anything that happens that is over the head of a young reader. The themes, character analysis, and so on is beyond a child, but the story progression is very straightforward.

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"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is a short story by Gabriel García Márquez, and is subtitled "A Tale for Children."

The subtitle seems out of place because the story is so strange; an old man, assumed to be an angel, falls out of the sky and is taken in by a family. They try to figure out what he is, finally charging admission and becoming comfortably wealthy. Eventually, a new "freak" takes the angel's place in public interest, and the angel grows stronger with spring and flies off.

The story is somewhat like Aesop's fables, or the parables in the Bible; it is a straightforward account that leaves interpretation up to the reader. Children have an easier time accepting the presence of a man with wings, or a woman changed into a spider, and so instead of questioning the reality of the tale itself they are better able to question the moral; why are the family, who treat the angel poorly, allowed to profit from his presence? At the end, they have money and a new house, and the angel leaves, but was it there to serve a purpose? It fails to incite any religious resurgence in the town; in fact, with the woman/spider, it seems that some other power is at work. The subtitle may even be a joke on the part of the author, saying that it is meant to be read as a story instead of analyzed as literature.

The family suspects that the angel was sent to take their sick child, and in fact the child recovers while the angel remains in poor health throughout the winter. It is possible that the angel served to "take away" the child's sickness, and his presence had the unintentional effect of helping the family financially. In the end, the story is less a morality tale and more a fanciful story showing the incomprehensible mysteries of nature, and possibly heaven.

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Does the subtitle of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" indicate that it is appropriate for children?

The subtitle is "A Tale For Children," and the story is much more in the vein of older fairy tales than modern stories that are sanitized and simplified. By presenting a possibly theological and ethical problem, and not claiming any specific moral or unassailable truth, the author challenges the reader to stretch their own thinking and mind in considering the meaning of the "angel" and its place in the story. For children, this ambiguity is a good method of developing critical thinking, as the child is forced to decide what the story means instead of being told what to think.

[The priest] came out of the chicken coop and in a brief sermon warned the curious against the risks of being ingenuous. He reminded them that the devil had the bad habit of making use of carnival tricks in order to confuse the unwary. He argued that if wings were not the essential element in determining the different between a hawk and an airplane, they were even less so in the recognition of angels.
(Márquez, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," salvoblue.homestead.com)

Modern assumptions of what is and is not appropriate for children are based in a mode of protection; it is assumed that children are not capable of understanding complex ideas and should be sheltered from harsher realities until their minds develop. In contrast, this story challenges the developing mind to come to decisions regarding religion and reality, and while it might be deemed inappropriate for religious, thematic, or even cultural reasons, it is no more inappropriate than much of television programming today, not to mention content available online.

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Does the subtitle of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" indicate that it is appropriate for children?

I would suggest that the story might be difficult for children to fully grasp because it operates so much in the realm of doubt and a lack of certainty.  Marquez's work offers little in terms of certainty in its plot structure.  We, as the reader, end up gauging little in terms of whether the old man is an angel and whether his presence is one that relates to redemption.  The lack of certainty is where the work is a challenge for children who are accustomed to a certain sense of certainty in their early comprehension of literature.  

Marquez plays with absolutism in the development of his work.  The result is one in which there is questioning and a sense of development that is not explicitly stated.  It makes it difficult for young audiences to fully grasp the story and for them to fully understand the story's implications.  

If adults are struggling with the ambiguity that the work is built upon, younger audiences might be a bit more fledgling in their grasp of the ambiguity.  Avoiding the use of the word "appropriate" and what it seems to convey, I would suggest that the work provides too many challenges to the younger audience.

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How is "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" appropriate for children and adults?

The subtitle of Garcia Marquez’s story is “A Tale for Children,” which indicates that the author intends for young readers to get something from the text.

One possible reason that the story is geared toward children is that it contains magical realism. The presence of the angel and the Spider Woman are fantastical facts in an otherwise realistic story. From the setting to the characters, the overwhelming sense of realism contrasts with the magical figures who inhabit the village at different points. While adults might recognize these characters as pure fantasy, children might view them as being the same as other human ones. A child’s ability to suspend disbelief makes this story accessible to them.

In addition, one could argue that Garcia Marquez’s story has a kind of moral. That moral is that people can take things for granted and that we have to treat everyone and everything with dignity and respect. On the other hand, the villagers’ abandonment of the angel in favor of the Spider Woman might also suggest that novelty always wears off; crowds are pleased with the same thing only for so long before moving on to the next. While the first “moral” appeals mostly to children, the second moral is a more nuanced social commentary that adults should glean from the tale.

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How is "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" appropriate for children and adults?

I would also add that like most fairy tales of the old days, such as Rumplestilskin, or even Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, or any fairy tale, really, there is a moral lesson that is perhaps more important than the titilation.

From those tales, children learn to be patient, to listen to their parents, to not trust strangers, etc. In Marquez's tale, the moral lesson to be gleaned is that a miracle must be appreciated, not exploited, or it will be taken away.

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How is "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" appropriate for children and adults?

An intriguing question. It is appropriate for children because of the wonder of it all: an old guy with wings plops into the mud and lives in this tiny village for a while. They try to feed him things like mothballs. Told that way, what's not to like?

It is appropriate for adults for that reason—the wonder of the images—plus the social satire that the children are likely to miss, such as the priest's approach.

Greg

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