Gabriel Marquez’s fantasy short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, transpires in Pelayo and his wife Elisenda’s yard on the beach after a stormy three days. While throwing dead crabs from the rain into the sea, Pelayo stumbles on a very old man with gigantic wings lying in the mud. On the same day, he tries to take care of his son who is running a fever. When Pelayo comes across him, he notifies Elisenda. Not knowing exactly who the man is, the two lock him up in Pelayo’s chicken coop and keep him there for years.
They want to know if he is really an angel or not. While being locked up, the old man goes through a lot of pain and suffering by the hands of the villagers because they do not know his true identity. In this combination of natural and supernatural, Marquez makes the readers wonder what would happen if they were faced with the supernatural. Also, Marquez forces the readers to consider how selfish, ignorant, greedy, and judgmental can be. In addition, Marquez pushes readers to realize that something out of the ordinary maybe a blessing in disguise.
Marquez achieves this through his strong use of imagery, irony, and symbolism. In the story, Marquez uses imagery to demonstrate his view of an angel to readers. For starters, the readers see the old man, “dressed like a ragpicker” (Marquez 269). Also, he, “had only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great grandfather had taken away any sense of grandeur he might have had” (269). These descriptions suggest that he is very old and withered up. Next, Marques allows readers to hear how the man speaks.
When Pelayo and Elisenda try communicating with him, “he answered in an incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor’s voice” (Marquez 270). The “angel” can talk, but no one can understand what he is saying because his voice is so strong. Third, Marquez gives, “an unbearable smell of the outdoors” to the angel (Marquez 271). Instead of giving the angel beautiful wings and a graceful look, Marquez sets up the appearance of the angel in an unordinary way. All of the angel’s features cause the community to react in a negative way and treat him like a circus animal not knowing that he is actually a good person.
These examples of imagery show the readers that just because something looks bad, doesn’t mean it is actually bad. In addition to imagery, Marquez displays irony throughout the story with the unexpected characters’ reactions to the thought of the old man being an angel. After Pelayo and Elisenda lock the angel up, Elisenda, “got the idea of fencing in the yard and charging five cents admission to see the angel” (271). What’s ironic about this is that the old man is supposedly an angel, yet he is used to make money.
When Pelayo and Elisenda go outside to see him, “they found the whole neighborhood having fun with the angel without the slightest reverence” (270). This is ironic because people would normally respect and worship an angel if they see one. Instead, the characters show the man no compassion or respect even though he does nothing wrong to the community. As the story comes to an end, the old man recovers and flies away, and Elisenda gives a sigh of relief because, “he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea” (Marquez 274).
Elisenda thinks of the old man as being a nuisance, but in the end the angel’s arrival brings wealth to her family by allowing them to build, “a two story mansion with balconies and gardens” (Marquez 273). Through his use of irony, Marquez teaches readers that we should act more accordingly and not take advantage of a situation no matter if it is good or bad. Last but not least, Marquez presents many symbols in the story to show the significance of the characters’ conflicted feelings and behavior toward the angel.
To begin with, Marquez sets the setting by stating, “the sea and sky were a single ash gray thing” and “the sands of the beach had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish” (269). The continuous rain symbolizes how the villagers live. The negative setting gives the villagers a negative attitude, and their negative attitudes are taken out on the angel. Another form of symbolism are the angel’s wings. For most people, an angel has huge feathers that are beautiful and full of grace.
However, Marquez describes the angel’s wings as being, “strewn with parasites” and mistreated by terrestrial winds” (271). Because of the condition of the angel’s wings, the villagers lose all hope and faith within the community. The lack of faith is why the villagers, “threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing” (272). Thirdly, Marquez uses the angel to symbolize the ignorance of the characters. When looking at the angel, some of the villagers, “burned his side with an iron for branding steers” (272).
No one knows what the old man is, so they just decide to make the angel their property. Later, the family then becomes rich and no longer sees use in him. What makes the characters ignorant is that they mistreat the angel only because they do not know who the man is. These symbols demonstrate to readers that people will do anything to get money and act foolish when they see something out of the ordinary without having the slightest knowledge. In the end, Marquez does an outstanding job in creating the odd story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”.
Marquez is able to use different literary devices to teach readers important life lessons. Marquez’s story forces the readers to see deeper features within the story and try to use them in our lives. Overall, Marquez’s story leaves readers with so many unanswered questions and leaves us to think about how we believe in certain things. Also, Marquez story might force readers to think about how they treat others and how they are able to recognize good things in bad situations. In conclusion, Marquez shows readers that sometimes we use and abuse people who can sometimes be just what we need.