Literary Analysis: “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

Angel StatueIn “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” author Gabriel Garcia Marquez weaves the natural with the supernatural in an unexpected yet stimulating way that leaves us to ask ourselves what our response would if we were confronted with something supernatural right outside the door. By blending the most mundane and ugly parts of life – from rainy days to selfish crowds – with the miraculous – an angel that finally grows in strength and flies away – Marquez effectively uses a creative tone and his unique style to create a story that carries elements of our everyday lives yet still supersedes it. His story invites us as readers to look a little closer at the events in our lives and determine how we are responding to the normal things we face and the not-quite-normal events that could change our lives if we have the right mindset.

The tone of the story is set in the beginning, with the most natural and unwelcome of occurrences: a sick child in the midst of poor weather. In the first few sentences, Marquez’ writing style immediately grabs the imagination as he writes, “The world had been sad since Tuesday,” describing the drab and inclement weather in detail. He goes on, in the first paragraph, to bring in magical elements by introducing the surreal character of an old man with enormous wings. Marquez immediately shatters any mindsets we have of powerful and holy angels by placing him face down in the mud and unable to extricate himself, “impeded by his enormous wings.”

With a hint of irony, we read that the very objects that should have empowered this man to fly above the elements – his wings – instead hindered him and brought him no end of unwanted attention. Irony is part of the tone weaved throughout the story. We see it in the “wise old woman” who determined that the old man with wings was an angel … and then suggested clubbing him to death. We see it in the wording that Marquez chose when he stated that the husband and wife “felt magnanimous” when they opted to set the angel afloat on a raft with enough food to last him a few days “and leave him to his fate on the high seas.”

In parts of the story, the author’s tone seems to convey a sense of regret that humanity, as a whole, often fails to appreciate the “magic” that is part of our lives because instead of appreciating an experience and living fully in the moment, we’re looking to see what’s in it for us. When the husband and wife, Pelayo and Elisenda, decide to exploit the angel by having the onlookers pay to see him, this sense of selfishness and greed is apparent. Here, again, we are given the opportunity to explore with our imagination what we would do when faced with a similar situation. Of course, no angel is going to fall from the skies into my yard on a sad and stormy day, but in the daily run of things, how am I using the opportunities presented to me? Gabriel Garcia Marquez invites us to ask ourselves questions such as these not through a sermon but in the form of a story.

In his unique use of magical realism, Marquez also takes those natural tendencies of humanity and weaves it with supernatural elements, creating scenes that make me want to read the story again, to see if I’ve missed something important, if perhaps the magic can spread beyond the pages of the book and into the world around me as well. For instance, the angel is so much “man” that Father Gonzaga notices he’s “much too human.” He smells. Everything about him is opposite of everything we think of as angelic and holy. But when looking closer, portions of the angel’s character can be glimpsed in the pages such as his unending patience. Of course, he doesn’t have much choice, but he just endures the mistreatment – being locked up with the chickens, pushed around, poked and prodded. He doesn’t fight back. He just waits and puts up with it … almost as if he knows it’s only for a time. This, if nothing else, is a sign of the angel’s supernatural origin – his bearing in the midst of trauma. Perhaps we also, in spite of our very human and sometimes unsavory circumstances, can manifest those same attributes of patience and endurance. The tone of the story invites me to think that, yes, it is possible.

Finally, towards the end of the story, the angel’s patience is rewarded as he begins sprouting new feathers in his wings with the dawning of spring. The tone and setting of the story match the action. The long and dreary winter is over and new life is beginning all around, and within. Like the rest of the angel, those new feathers are straggly and unimpressive, “the feathers of a scarecrow, which look more like another misfortune of decrepitude” … but they are enough. He looks to the sky, feels the breeze, and begins to fly, slowly at first but rising higher and eventually disappearing over the ocean, beyond the blue.

Elisenda watches from the kitchen and we read that “she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.” Again, we are struck with the strange juxtaposition of her emotions against the clearly supernatural circumstances. Elisenda is watching an angel take flight – the same angel that provided her and her husband with enough money to build a two-story mansion – and she feels nothing but relief that this annoyance is gone from her life. At the end, just as in the beginning, a normal person is confronted with clearly abnormal and supernatural events, and fails to see it for the amazing happening that it is. Elisenda probably goes back to her work in the kitchen, never truly appreciating the miracle that entered her life unexpectedly and left just as abruptly.

With the tone that the author sets in the ending, we are left to ask: how many times do we glance up for a moment, see a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, and just look away? How often are we confronted with something truly amazing and fail to see it for what it is because we refuse to get past the question, “What’s in it for me?” With his use of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez opens the door to some interesting questions and invites the reader to not only enter a place of imagination and mystery, but also to look into one’s own thoughts and actions and see how they measure up against the elements – normal and abnormal – of everyday life.


2 comments on “Literary Analysis: “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

  1. Sergey says:

    Really interesting analysis – I enjoyed reading it as much as the original story itself


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