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"
Translator Gregory Rabassa
Genre(s) Magic realism
Published in Leaf Storm and Other Stories
Publication type Book
Publisher Harper & Row (1st English edition)
Publication date 1955
Published in English 1972

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" (Spanish: Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes) is a short story by Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, first published in 1955.[1] It falls within the genre of magic realism and is included in English in the book Leaf Storm and Other Stories.

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins after three days of rain, which make crabs come out everywhere. Pelayo and Elisenda's child is sick, supposedly because of the crabs' stench. They find an old sickly man with enormous wings in their backyard. When the couple attempts to communicate with the old man, his incomprehensible language leads the couple to believe he is a castaway. A neighbor woman, who knows many things about life and death, tells the couple he is an angel. Pelayo decides to lock the angel in a chicken coop overnight and then send him on a raft to his fate.

Early the next morning the local people gather in front of the chicken coop, to harass the angel. Father Gonzaga arrives at 7, alarmed by the strange news and to see whether the old man really is an angel or not. Ultimately, Father Gonzaga finds many reasons why the man cannot be an angel, such as the fact that the old man cannot understand Latin, and he shows many mortal characteristics. Elisenda, tired of cleaning up the visitors' messes, decides to charge an entrance fee of 5 cents to see the angel, which eventually allows them to amass a fortune.

The crowd soon loses interest in the angel, because another spectacular person becomes famous in the village. The new attraction is a woman who disobeyed her parents when she was young and has since been transformed into a tarantula. In order for her to continue telling her story, the people of the town toss meatballs into her mouth, which was "her only means of nourishment." Though the people of the town no longer visit the angel, the family has saved up enough money to build a mansion with balconies and gardens and nets.

Still in captivity, the angel's health declines and seems on the verge of death. When his last winter in the chicken coop is over he suddenly becomes more healthy and grows a few new feathers. At first, he roams around the house, but Elisenda keeps shooing him out of the rooms with a broom. One day he leaves the house and flies away.[2]


Pelayo is Elisenda's husband. He discovers the Old Man in his backyard.
Elisenda is the one who comes up with the idea of charging people to see the Old Man.
The Old Man
The Old Man is "Dreaming" in the story. He first appears in the backyard in the mud. The family is 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.
Father Gonzaga
Father Gonzaga is the town priest and the authority figure of the town. He has a calming personality. He contacts the Church and awaits verdict from authority. He later says he thinks that the Old Man is an imposter or a phony because he doesn't know Latin, the language of the God.
The Neighbour
The Neighbour is known for being wise, intelligent, and helpful. She thinks that the Old Man is an angel who has fallen from the sky and come 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 about her story, so the villagers abandon the Old Man when she comes.
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.


A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings was published during "La Violencia". Scholar John Goodwin argues that the text of the story can be read as a commentary on the events in Colombia at the time: "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."[3]

Stage play[edit]

This piece was adapted to the stage by Nilo Cruz in 2002, which he published in the journal Theater.[4][5] Also, Theatre Formation Paribartak of India made another adaption of this story into a play and has been staging it since 2005.


  1. ^ 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. ^ McFarland, Ronald E (Fall 1992). "Community and Interpretive Communities in poopo Hawthorne, Kafka, and Garcia Marquez". Studies in Short Fiction. 29 (4): 551. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Cruz, Nilo (2003). "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings". Theater. 33 (2): 64 (28p). doi:10.1215/01610775-33-2-65. 
  5. ^ Munk, Erika; Nilo Cruz (2003). "The Children are the Angels Here". Theater. 33 (2): 62. doi:10.1215/01610775-33-2-62. 

External links[edit]