A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

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"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"
Original title"Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes"
TranslatorGregory Rabassa
Genre(s)Magic realismfantasy
Published in Leaf Storm and Other Stories
Publication typeBook
PublisherHarper & Row (1st English edition)
Publication date1955
Published in English1972

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" (Spanish: Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes) and subtitled "A Tale for Children" is a short story by Colombian writer and author Gabriel García Márquez. The tale was first published in 1955 in Spanish and was then published in English in the 1972 book Leaf Storm and Other Stories.[1] The short story involves the eponymous character who appears in a family's backyard on a stormy night. What follows are the reactions of the family, a town, and outside visitors.[2] This story falls within the genre of magic realism.

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins after three days of rain. Crabs are infesting Pelayo and Elisenda’s house and causing a horrible stench, which is believed to be making their baby sick. When Pelayo comes back from throwing the crabs into the sea, he sees a very old man with wings laying face down in mud in his courtyard. Startled, Pelayo goes to get his wife and they examine the man. He is dressed like a “ragpicker” and is very dirty. After staring at him for so long, Pelayo and Elisenda are able to overcome their initial shock of seeing the man with wings. They try to speak to him but the man speaks in an incomprehensible dialect. They decide he is a castaway from a shipwreck however a neighbor informs them that the man is an angel.

The following day the entire town knows about the man with wings who is said to be an angel. Pelayo decides to chain up the man and keep him in the chicken coop. A day later when the rain stops, the baby is feeling better and is able to eat. Pelayo and Elisenda want to send the old man out to sea with food and water for three days and let nature take care of him. However, when they go out to their courtyard, they see a mass of people gathered around the chicken coop to see the angel. They were harassing him by treating him like he were not a person but a circus animal.

The priest, Father Gonzaga comes by the house because he was surprised by the news of the angel. At this time, onlookers where making hypothesizes about what should happen to the angel. They were saying things like “he should be the leader of the world,” or “he should be a military leader so to win all wars.” However, Father Gonzaga was not fooled by these rumors. To determine whether the man was an angel or not, Father Gonzaga spoke to him in Latin. Since the man with wings did not recognize Latin and looked too human, the priest decided the man could not be an angel. Father Gonzaga then warned the onlookers that the man was in fact not an angel. However the people did not care, and word spread that the old man with wings was an angel.

People began coming from all over to Pelayo and Elisenda’s house to see the angel. It reached a point that they had to build a fence and charge people admission. However, the man wanted nothing to do with his act. He would do his best to get comfortable but his audience tried to gauge a reaction from him. At one point, the audience poked him with hot iron branding seers. The angel responded in anger by flapping his wings and yelling in his strange language.

Later, new carnival attractions arrive in town bringing a woman who had metamorphosed into a spider. The townspeople lose interest in the angel. However, Pelayo and Elisenda were able to build a mansion with the fortune they had gained by charging admission. The child grows older and is told not to go into the chicken coop. Yet the child does, and later the child and old man had chicken pox at the same time.

When the child was at the age of schooling, the chicken coop had been broken down and the man began to appear in Pelayo and Elisenda’s house. He then moved into the shed and became very ill. Yet, he survived the winter and became stronger. One fateful day, Elisenda was making lunch and looked out the window to see the angel trying to fly. His first attempts were clumsy, however, after time he was able to gain altitude and fly away from Pelayo and Elisenda’s house.[3]

Characters[edit]

  • Pelayo: Pelayo is the father of the child and Elisenda's husband. He discovers the old man in his backyard.
  • Elisenda: Elisenda is the mother of the child and Pelayo's wife. Elisenda is the one who comes up with the idea of charging people to see the old man.
  • The Old Man: He is "dreaming" in the story. He appears in the backyard in the mud. The family is at first hesitant about what he is, so they make him live in the chicken coop. He is very dirty, and he speaks an incomprehensible language that no one understands. When the crowds first start to come around, he is absentminded and patient about what's going on; as the crowds continue to come from all over the world to see him, he becomes a celebrity. Later, the crowds burn him with a branding iron and he flaps his wings in pain. In the end, he grows back all of his feathers and flies away. The old man is described many times throughout as having "antiquarian" eyes.[1]
  • Father Gonzaga: Father Gonzaga is the town priest and the authority figure of the town. He is described as having been "a robust woodcutter" before becoming a priest. Father Gonzaga suspects the old man is an imposter because he doesn't know Latin, the language of God. He then contacts the Church and awaits verdict from higher authority.
  • The Neighbour: The Neighbour is said to know everything about life and death. She thinks that the Old Man is an angel who has fallen from the sky and came for Pelayo's son. While her advice for clubbing the Old Man is not taken, she still attempts to help her neighbors Pelayo and Elisenda.
  • Spider Woman: The Spider Woman essentially comes and takes the Old Man's fame. She is a troublemaker who got kicked out of her parents' home for disobeying. After disobeying her parents, she was transformed into a tarantula with the head of a woman. The people forget about the Old Man and focus their interest on her. In contrast to the Old Man, who does not talk and move much, she is always open to tell her story, so the villagers abandon the Old Man when she comes. The Spider Woman is attractive to the visitors because she is a relatable character who has been against some struggle as opposed to the seemingly cold and alien Old Man.
  • The Child: The child is Pelayo and Elisenda's newborn baby, who is ill when the story opens. The Neighbor tries to tell the family that the Old Man came to take the baby. The Old Man and the child are somewhat connected. They are ill at the same time and play together.

Themes[edit]

There are underlying themes to this short story.

There is a theme of interpreting authority structures as we see with Father Gonzaga and the neighbor. There is also a theme of the human condition when considering the old man and how he is not seen as angelic because of his earthly qualities. The human condition is important when considering the Spider Woman as her tale attracts visitors because they can pity her.

Some other themes to consider are the parallels between the child and the angel as the two seem to be connected. The theme of wings and their symbolism are represented in this story as well. The significance of the wings in relation to the old man's characteristics and Marquez's use of wings can be interpreted to act as a logic of supplement.[4] The wings separate this old man from the rest of the community members. Even when the doctor is examining the wings they appear natural but different from the usual anatomy.[4] There is also an underlying theme of questioning sacred and secular images.[5]

Magical realism plays a large part in this story. The Narrator is a third-person omniscient narrator.[6] This can give an effect of heightening the sense of magical realism throughout the narrative. The reader can understand that this story operates in a world much like our own but separate, as in an altered reality since the winged man lands at the beginning.[6]

Context[edit]

The story has received several critical responses, most of which comment on Marquez's use of the magical realism genre.

In an article for the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Greer Watson commented that there is little that is considered fantastic about the story, rather that elements such as the old man's wings are presented as an accepted fact.[6] He goes on to state that it is only the angelic nature of the winged man that is drawn into question.[6] Scholar John Goodwin argues that the text of the tale can be read as a commentary on La Violencia, as the short story was published during this time, writing that the "opinions of the villagers reveal an idealized view of religion as government; their treatment of the angel, however, betrays their reaction to rule by religious authorities."[7] Other critics responded as well, with Vera M. Kutzinski remarking that she saw the use of wings in the story and commented on the Afro-American myth of flying and the trope of flying in general,[4] while Marcy Schwartz felt that the Marquez's use of ambiguity was effective.[5]

Editions of the story[edit]

This piece was adapted for the stage by Nilo Cruz in 2002, which he published in the journal Theater.[8][9] Theatre Formation Paribartak of India made the story into a play and has been staging it since 2005.

This story was originally written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Spanish. It was translated by Gregory Rabassa. It was originally published in 1955 and later published in the book Leaf Storms and Other Stories in 1972 in English.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Schenstead-Harris, Leif. "Four Stories: "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel García Márquez". Weird Fiction Review. Luís Rodrigues. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  2. ^ Castillo, Raphael C. (Oct 1984). "Recommended: Gabriel Garcia Marquez". The English Journal. 73 (6): 77–78. doi:10.2307/817270. JSTOR 817270.
  3. ^ Cruz, N. (2003-01-01). "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings". Theater. 33 (2): 65–91. doi:10.1215/01610775-33-2-65. ISSN 0161-0775.
  4. ^ a b c Kutzinski, Vera M. (1985). "The Logic of Wings: Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Afro-American Literature" (vol. 13, no.25): 133–146. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ a b Schwartz, Marcy (2011). "The Right to Imagine: Reading in Community with People and Stories/ Gente y Cuentos". PMLA. 126 (3): 746–752. doi:10.1632/pmla.2011.126.3.746.
  6. ^ a b c d Watson, Greer (2000). "Assumptions of Reality: Low Fantasy, Magical Realism, and the Fantastic". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. 11 (2): 164–172.
  7. ^ Goodwin, John (Winter 2006). "Marquez's A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings and Bambara's The Lesson". Explicator. 64 (2): 128–130. doi:10.3200/expl.64.2.128-130.
  8. ^ Cruz, Nilo (2003). "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings". Theater. 33 (2): 64 (28p). doi:10.1215/01610775-33-2-65.
  9. ^ Munk, Erika; Nilo Cruz (2003). "The Children are the Angels Here". Theater. 33 (2): 62. doi:10.1215/01610775-33-2-62.

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