Literary Analysis – A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
September 23, 2022
In “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” author Gabriel Garcia Marquez weaves the natural with the supernatural in an unexpected yet stimulating way. It leaves the reader with the question, “What would I do if I was confronted with something supernatural right outside my door?” By blending the most mundane and ugly parts of life – from rainy days to selfish crowds – with the miraculous, Marquez effectively uses a creative tone and a unique style to create a story that carries elements of everyday life yet supersedes it. His story invites the reader to look closer at daily events and determine one’s response to the normal and not-quite-normal events that have the power to change a life.
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. In the first paragraph, he brings in magical elements by introducing the surreal character of an old man with enormous wings. Marquez immediately shatters any mindsets the reader has 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, the very objects that should have empowered this man to fly above earth’s elements – his wings – hindered him and brought him unwanted attention. Irony is part of the tone weaved throughout the story. It is seen in the “wise old woman” who determined that the old man with wings was an angel… and then suggested clubbing him to death. It is noticed 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 life. Instead of appreciating an experience and living fully in the moment, so many ask, “What’s in it for me?” 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, the reader has the opportunity to imagine what their choice would be if faced with a similar situation. Of course, no angel is going to fall from the skies on a sad and stormy day, but in the daily run of things, how does one use the opportunities presented? Gabriel Garcia Marquez invites the reader to ask questions such as these not through a sermon but in the form of a story.
Using magical realism, Marquez also takes those natural tendencies of humanity and weaves it with supernatural elements, creating scenes that let the reader wonder if perhaps the magic can spread into the world beyond the pages. For instance, the angel is so real that the local priest, Father Gonzaga, notices he’s “much too human.” He smells. Everything about him is opposite of everything one might think of as angelic and holy. But when looking closer, portions of the angel’s character can be glimpsed in the pages. His unending patience is made apparent when he endures mistreatment – being locked up with chickens, pushed around, poked and prodded. He doesn’t fight back. He waits… 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 in spite of human and unsavory circumstances, the reader, too, can manifest those same attributes of patience and endurance. The tone of the story invites one to think that, yes, it is possible.
Finally, towards the end of the story, the angel’s patience is rewarded. With the dawning of spring, he begins to sprout new feathers in his wings. The 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 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 “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.” The strange juxtaposition of her emotions against the clearly supernatural circumstances creates a unique effect. 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 he is gone. At the end, just as in the beginning, a normal person is confronted with a supernatural event and fails to see it for the amazing happening that it is. Elisenda likely returns to her work, never appreciating the miracle that entered her life unexpectedly and left just as abruptly.
With the tone that the author sets in the ending, the reader is invited to ask, “How many times do I glance up for a moment, see a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, and look away? How often am I confronted with something truly amazing and fail to see it for what it is because I pause at the question, ‘What’s in it for me?'”
With his use of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez opens the door to interesting dialogue 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 supernatural – of everyday life.