Section 3-4 Summary - Decline and Departure

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 584

Decline The new sensation is ‘‘the spider-woman,’’ whose fantastic nature includes none of the majesty we associate with angels; she represents a kind of ''magic’’ familiar from fairytales and folk legends. When still a girl, she once disobeyed her parents by going dancing; later, on the way home, she was...

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Decline
The new sensation is ‘‘the spider-woman,’’ whose fantastic nature includes none of the majesty we associate with angels; she represents a kind of ''magic’’ familiar from fairytales and folk legends. When still a girl, she once disobeyed her parents by going dancing; later, on the way home, she was struck by lightning and changed into a giant tarantula, retaining her human head. As a spectacle, she appeals to the crowd in ways the old man cannot, and even charges a lower admission price. Significantly, she speaks to her visitors, explaining the meaning of her monstrous appearance; her sad story is easy to understand, and points to a clear moral (children should obey their parents), one her audience already believes to be true. In contrast, the old man does nothing to explain himself, teaches nothing, and doesn't even entertain people; rather than confirming their beliefs, his mysterious nature challenges all the expectations it creates. He does perform some miracles, but they are equally puzzling, seeming to be either practical jokes or the result of some ‘‘mental disorder.’’ These disappointing miracles ‘‘had already ruined the angel's reputation, when the woman who had been changed into a spider finally crushed him completely.’’ The crowds disappear from Pelayo and Elisenda's courtyard as suddenly as they had come, and the unexplained mystery of the "birdman" is quickly forgotten.

Still, thanks to the now-departed paying customers, Pelayo and Elisenda are now wealthy. They rebuild their home as ‘‘a two-story mansion with balconies and gardens and high netting so that crabs wouldn't get in during the winter, and with iron bars on the windows so that angels wouldn't get in,'' and settle into a life of luxury. But the ruined chicken coop and its ancient captive remain; as the years pass, the couple's growing child plays in the courtyard with the old man, who stubbornly survives despite his infirmities and neglect. When a doctor comes to examine him, he is amazed that the old man is still alive, and also by ‘‘the logic of his wings,’’ which seem so natural that the doctor wonders why everyone doesn't have them. Even the birdman's mystery and wonder grow so familiar that he eventually becomes a simple nuisance: a disagreeable old man, ‘‘dragging himself about here and there,’’ always underfoot. Elisenda seems to find him everywhere in the house, as if he were duplicating himself just to annoy her; at one point she grows so ‘‘exasperated and unhinged’’ she screams that she is living in a ''hell full of angels.'' Finally the old man's health deteriorates even further, and he seems to be near death.

Departure
As winter gives way to the sunny days of spring, the old man's condition begins to improve. He seems to sense a change taking place in himself, and to know what it means. He tries to stay out of the family's sight, sitting motionless for days in the corner of the courtyard; at night, he quietly sings sailor's songs to himself. Stiff new feathers begin to grow from his wings, and one morning Elisenda sees him trying them out in the courtyard. His first efforts to fly are clumsy, consisting of ‘‘ungainly flapping that slipped on the light and couldn't get a grip on the air,’’ but he finally manages to take off. Elisenda sighs with relief, ‘‘for herself and for him,'' as she watches him disappear, ''no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.’’

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Section 2 Summary - Sensation