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"|
|Published in||Leaf Storm and Other Stories|
|Publisher||Harper & Row (1st English edition)|
|Published in English||1972|
"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. The short story involves a very old man with enormous wings who appears in a families' backyard on a stormy night. What follows are the reactions of the family, a town, and outside visitors. This story falls within the genre of magic realism.
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 lying face-down. When the couple attempts to communicate with him, 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. The next day everyone knows there is a "flesh and blood angel" in their yard. 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 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 small 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. 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 he seems on the verge of death. When his last winter in the chicken coop is over he suddenly becomes healthier 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. Elisenda watches him do this through the kitchen window as she continues chopping onions.
- 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 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.
- 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 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 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.
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. 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. There is also an underlying theme of questioning sacred and secular images. 
Magical realism plays a large part in this story. The Narrator is a third-person omniscient narrator. 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.
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. He goes on to state that it is only the angelic nature of the winged man that is drawn into question. 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." Other critics responded as well, with Vera M. Kutzinski remarking that she saw the use of wings in the story commented on the Afro-American myth of flying and the trope of flying in general, while Marcy Schwartz felt that the Marquez's use of ambiguity was effective.
This piece was adapted to the stage by Nilo Cruz in 2002, which he published in the journal Theater. Theatre Formation Paribartak of India made an adaption into a play and has been staging it since 2005.
- 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.
- Castillo, Raphael C. (Oct 1984). "Recommended: Gabriel Garcia Marquez". The English Journal. 73 (6): 77–78. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
- McFarland, Ronald E (Fall 1992). "Community and Interpretive Communities in poopo Hawthorne, Kafka, and Garcia Marquez". Studies in Short Fiction. 29 (4): 551.
- Kutzinski, Vera M. (1985). "The Logic of Wings: Gabriel GArcia Marquez and Afro-American Literature" (vol. 13, no.25): 133–146.
- Schwartz, Marcy (2011). "The Right to Imagine: Reading in Community with People and Stories/ Gente y Cuentos". PMLA. 126 (no. 3): 746–752.
- Watson, Greer (2000). "Assumptions of Reality: Low Fantasy, Magical Realism, and the Fantastic". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. 11 (2): 164–172.
- 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.
- Cruz, Nilo (2003). "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings". Theater. 33 (2): 64 (28p). doi:10.1215/01610775-33-2-65.
- Munk, Erika; Nilo Cruz (2003). "The Children are the Angels Here". Theater. 33 (2): 62. doi:10.1215/01610775-33-2-62.