A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez

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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Summary

  • One day, Pelayo finds a very old man with enormous wings in his courtyard. It has been raining for three days, and it appears that the man was in a shipwreck. Neither Pelayo nor his wife Elisenda can communicate with the old man, however, because he speaks a language they don't understand.
  • Pelayo and his wife bring the old man to their chicken coop, where they essentially keep him prisoner. Seeing an opportunity, the couple start charging curious villagers a small fee to see the winged man, whom they assume to be an angel.
  • Father Gonzaga, the local priest, denounces the winged man because he can't speak Latin or fit on the head of a pin, like an angel should. Nevertheless, the old man appears to perform miracles, such as giving a blind man three new teeth.
  • Years pass, and Pelayo and his wife use the admission fees they collect to move into an impressive new house. The old man moves in with them and makes several attempts to fly, but isn't able to until years later, at the end of the story.

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One day when Pelayo, a coastal villager, goes to dispose of crabs that have washed ashore onto his property, he discovers an old man with wings lying face down in the mud. The toothless creature is bald and dressed in rags. As Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda, carefully examine the creature, looking for clues to its origin, it responds to their questions in a tongue that they cannot identify. They suspect that he is a castaway from a ship. Other villagers who see the old man offer theories about his origins and appearance. The couple plan to set him adrift on a raft, but they first imprison him in a chicken coop. When a large crowd gathers around the coop, Pelayo and his wife decide to charge admission to view him, thereby creating a circuslike atmosphere.

The local priest, Father Gonzaga, is disturbed by rumors that the mysterious winged creature might be an angel, so he comes the next day to investigate. When the old man fails to understand Latin, the priest denounces him as an impostor. Nevertheless, curious people travel great distances to see the creature, and a carnival arrives to take advantage of the large crowds. Father Gonzaga, in the meantime, writes to the pope in an attempt to ascertain the church’s official position on the creature and the apparently “miraculous” occurrences that the crowds associate with the old man. The Vatican demands to know if the old man knows Aramaic, if he can fit on the head of a pin, and if he has a navel. Meanwhile, the sick and the handicapped come to the old man in search of cures. The old man does seem to perform miracles, but these miracles are gratuitous in that they are unrelated to the sickness involved. A blind man, for example, grows three new teeth.

The crowds begin diminishing after the carnival puts on display a woman who was transformed into an enormous spider for having attended a dance without her parents’ permission. Nevertheless, Pelayo and his wife have profited so greatly from their enterprise that they purchase a new house and fine clothing. After their chicken coop collapses, the old man moves into the couple’s home, where he becomes a nuisance. Over the years the old man makes feeble attempts to fly, but not until the end of the story does he finally gain sufficient strength and altitude to fly away.

Section 1 Summary - Arrival

(Short Stories for Students)

While Garcia Marquez makes no divisions in the text, this discussion will consider the plot in four separate stages. The story begins with the ‘‘old man's’’ arrival and ends with his departure. The intervening period, which covers several years, may be divided into two stages: the brief sensation caused by his appearance and a long period of declining interest in which the strange visitor is all but forgotten.

The setting is an unnamed coastal village, at an unspecified time in the past. A long rainstorm has washed crabs up from the beach into Pelayo's house, creating an odor he thinks may be affecting his sick newborn child....

(The entire section is 1,602 words.)