Originally published in 1968, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a short story in which Gabriel García Márquez exemplifies magical realism, a genre in which fantasy and reality seem to be one and the same (as realistic events are described in seemingly fantastic ways). This makes the short story a captivating reading, especially considering that it takes the reader to ponder about the existence of ethereal places (such as heaven and hell) and beings (angels).
The story depicts the arrival of an old, unearthly man to a distant village. The man was found by Pelayo and his wife Elisenda in their backyard. Upon finding him, they are shocked to find that he has enormous wings on his back. As the story unfolds, the reader learns about the village’s reaction to the winged man’s coming; everyone comes to believing that he is an angel (fallen from the skies given his old age and the severity of the storm that had hit the village), soon people from all places make pilgrimages to the village in order to see the angel and ask for miracles. On this point, García Márquez imprints the air of decadence on the winged man; he develops a hybrid character, one who the reader starts to disbelief is an angel but, at the same time, start to view as a supernatural being. This idea is reinforced when the happening of miracles such as that of “the blind man who didn’t recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn’t get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers” is mentioned(García Márquez).
Concerning the characters, it is interesting to find out that the author develops no real protagonist in the story. Pelayo, Elisenda and the winged man are central characters (as the entire plot revolves around the three of them), but none of them is developed in full. In reality, , there is nothing at all interesting about the old man apart from the fact that he has wings. There is nothing interesting about Pelayo, Elisenda or any of the other characters either. When discussing the story’s setting, it must be said that there is nothing interesting about it either. The story unfolds in a rundown house (in a rundown village); at the beginning of the story, the house is described as shabby and filled with crabs.
Evidently, neither the characters nor the setting is truly interesting. Notwithstanding, the author manages to develop a compelling story, the one which, in many ways, can be viewed as a strong critique of a man’s indifference, selfishness, ingratitude, and even cruelty. First, this critique can be seen in the way that the old man remains patient, while the villagers indulge in “throwing him mothballs, fruit peels and breakfast leftovers as how they would treat a lowly animal” (Yang). In a way, the author makes a martyr out of the old man, using him as a means of showing how the society is cruel to those who are different. At the same time, the old man stands out as a symbol of higher power; he embodies faith, respect and tolerance (which are what every man should strive for). Secondly, the way in which Elisenda (and Pelayo, though in a lesser degree) treats the old man and feels about him speaks of the author’s critical position against man’s selfishness and ingratitude. This is made clear when the winged man finally garners the strength to fly away from the village. Upon seeing him, and “despite all that the angel had indirectly brought her: money, property, a better life, and security, Elisenda was relieved to see him leave” (Woodson).
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In conclusion, despite lacking in setting and character development, the story compensates by the questions that it raises and the critiques that it makes of human nature. Furthermore, the mastery that Gabriel García Márquez exhibits in developing magical realism forces the reader to question whether or not there are unearthly beings such as winged men out there. This short story, despite not being a ‘must read,’ is a captivating reality check.
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