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Angels; Catholics or Catholic Church; Latin America or Latin Americans;
Miracles; Old age or elderly people; Twentieth century
Work Analysis; Essay by Genevieve Slomski
9620000487
MagillOnLiterature Plus
Essay Information:
Accession Number:
Database:
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
Un" "Senor muy viejo con unas alas enormes
Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition © 2004 by Salem
Press, Inc.
Authors Information: Garda Marquez, Gabriel
Full Name: Gabriel Jose Garda Marquez
Also known as: Gabo
Gender: Male
National Identity: Colombia
Language: Spanish
first published: "Un senor muy viejo con unas alas enormes," 1968
(English translation, 1972)
Earth; Latin America
Fable; Short fiction
Publication
Information:
Locale:
Literary
Genres/Subgenres:
Subject Terms:
Record: 1
Title:
Alternate Titles:
Series:
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
Author: Gabriel Garda Marquez
Also known as: Gabo
Born: March 6, 1927; Aracataca, Colombia
Type of Plot: Fable
Time of Work: The twentieth century
Locale: A Latin American village
Principal Characters:
Pelayo, a villager who discovers the old man with wings
Elisenda, his wife
Father Gonzaga, a village priest
An old man with wings
The Story
One day when Pelayo, a coastal villager, goes to dispose of crabs that have washed
ashore onto his property, he discovers an old man with Wings lying face down in the mud.
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The toothless creature is bald and dressed in rags. As Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda,
carefully examine the creature, looking for clues to its origin, it responds to their questions
in a tongue that they cannot identify. They suspect that he is a castaway from a ship.
other villagers who see the old man offer theories about his origins and appearance. The
couple plan to set him adrift on a raft, but they first imprison him in a chicken coop. When
a large crowd gathers around the coop, Pelayo and his wife decide to charge admission to
view him, thereby creating a circuslike atmosphere.
The local priest, Father Gonzaga, is disturbed by rumors that the mysterious winged
creature might be an angel, so he comes the next day to investigate. When the old man
fails to understand Latin, the priest denounces him as an impostor. Nevertheless, curious
people travel great distances to see the creature, and a carnival arrives to take advantage
of the large crowds. Father Gonzaga, in the meantime, writes to the pope in an attempt to
ascertain the church's official position on the creature and the apparently "miraculous"
occurrences that the crowds associate with the old man. The Vatican demands to know if
the old man knows Aramaic, if he can fit on the head of a pin, and if he has a navel.
Meanwhile, the sick and the handicapped come to the old man in search of cures. The old
man does seem to perform miracles, but these miracles are gratUitous in that they are
unrelated to the sickness involved. A blind man, for example, grows three new teeth.
The crowds begin diminishing after the carnival puts on display a woman who was
transformed into an enormous spider for having attended a dance without her parents'
permission. Nevertheless, Pelayo and his wife have profited so greatly from their
enterprise that they purchase a new house and fine clothing. After their chicken coop
collapses, the old man moves into the couple's home, where he becomes a nuisance. Over
the years the old man makes feeble attempts to fly, but not until the end of the story does
he finally gain sufficient strength and altitude to flyaway.
Themes and Meanings
"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" treats two issues: interpretation and
invention/imagination. After the discovery of the stranger, six interpretations of his
significance arise Within the story. Once Pelayo recovers from his initial astonishment, he
concludes that the old man is a lonely castaway. The basis for his conclusion is that the
man speaks in a strong "sailor's voice." This explanation is merely arbitrary, however,
because basic logic rejects the interpretation and makes Pelayo's explanation merely
humorous. The second interpretation is made by a neighbor woman who is thought to
know "everything about life and death." The humor of her interpretation arises in the
certainty with which she pronounces that the old man is an angel.
The next three interpretations are proposed by various innocent and ingenuous villagers.
According to them, the stranger may be either the mayor of the world, a five-star general,
or the first of a race of winged wise men who will take charge of the universe. Although
Father Gonzaga believes that the old man is not an angel, it is noteworthy that as the
"official" interpreter in the town, he is the only one who refuses to offer a concrete
interpretation; instead he merely sends a letter to the pope.
In the final analysis, the text offers no rational explanation for the enigmatic man. If fact,
the text defies rational explanation or analysis. It is suggested, however, that the old man
may be purely imaginary because he is described as disappearing in an "imaginary dot" on
the horizon at the end of the story. Although critics have argued that the old man leaves
because of his disillusionment with the exploitation surrounding his visit, at no time is this
interpretation substantiated within the narrative itself.
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"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" thus becomes a parody of the interpretive process
itself. Appearing as the first story in the volume La incre!b/e y triste historia de /a candida
Erendira y de su abue/a desa/mada (1972; Innocent Erendira, and Other Stories, 1979), it
also functions as a kind of warning to the reader. The story's implication is that one must
take extreme care when attributing rational laws of cause and effect to innately irrational
occurrences. The story also affirms Gabriel Garda Marquez's right to invention, to the
creative process, and to the life-affirming value of the human imagination.
Style and Technique
In "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," Garda Marquez makes use of several highly
inventive diversions from the basic story line to make interpretation even more elusive. In
these narrative diversions theme and technique become inseparably intertwined. Although
the old man/angel is central to the story, and every event bears on him, his appearance,
behavior, identity, fate, or effects, the attention focused on the old man is frequently
interrupted by shifts of focus to other characters, who are sometimes named and
described at length. The obtrusiveness of the narrator, who is both at one with and apart
from the other characters, also functions to distract the reader. The story, in fact,
vacillates between the perspective of the omniscient narrator and that of the villagers,
individually and collectively. When Father Gonzaga enters, for example, he reveals his
suspicions about the old man, his observations about him, his sermon to the assembly of
villagers, and his promise to seek advice from higher authorities. A few pages later, there
appears a synopsis of his correspondence to the pope about the old man, and after
another few pages, the waning of the old man's popularity seemingly cures Father
Gonzaga of his insomnia. Then the old man disappears from the narrative altogether.
The full history of the carnival woman who was transformed into a spider for disobeying
her parents constitutes another episode and provides a similar distraction, as do the
imaginative excesses of the ailments suffered by those who seek the oid man's help and
the cures he provides: A blind man remains blind but grows three new teeth; a leper has
sores that sprout sunflowers; a paralytic does not recover the use of his limbs but almost
wins the lottery. Such details call attention to themselves, rather than to their cause.
Thus, the episodic structure and narrative commentary within the story combine
purposefully to distract the reader from the old man, thereby making rationai
interpretations of his arrival and departure impossible.
The reader of the story occupies a position superior to that of its characters, who view
odd persons as clowns and believe that their neighbors possess supernatural powers. This
sense of superiority is important to the story's humor, but it is only a minor aspect of the
reader's total response. More significant is the reader's attitude regarding the role of
interpretation and invention. The reader appreciates invention in itself and learns to
accept its privileged position in the story. The diversions from the main story line give
invention precedence over action or closure. The reader approaches interpretation
cautiously, as attributing symbolic values to either the old man or his mysterious
disappearance will merely be acts of pointless interpretation. Thus, the Magical Realism of
Garda Marquez's style-a blurring of the division between the real and the fantastic-is
used to underscore the notion (indeed, the seeming contradiction) that the irrational is a
natural part of life and must be accepted on its own terms.
Essay by: Genevieve Slomski
Cross References
Gabriel Garda Margue£.C.c;ycloRedia of World Authors)
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Gabriel Garda MarQuez (Short Fiction)
GiJQJiglGa
Gabriel Garda Marguez (CensorshiR)
Gabriel Garda Marguez (Long Fiction)
TheQI:Y- of Short Fiction (Topical Overview-Short Fiction)
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Source: Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition © 2004 by Salem Press, Inc.
Accession Number: 9620000487
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