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\ I. •
anes, Regin/''A Very Old Man with Enormous Wmgs. Overview. "
to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson, St. James Press,
" :l_1 (\tr~k eU.' .r- I

1994. Rpt. Gale Database: Literature Resource Center, 1999.

Written between his first major novels, Cien al10s de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and
El otoilo del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch), "Un senor muy viejo con alas enormes" ("A
Very Old Man with Enormous Wings") is one of two stories the Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez
designated"A Tale for Children. " (The other is "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,. ")
The author has never explained the heading, but both stories have at their center a fantastic person
who enters, briefly, a more realistic world and transforms it in unexpected ways. Stylistically, the
stories belong to the magic realism of the first part of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a world of
wonders, where marvelous happenings are both impossible and innocent Collected with La
increible y trisle !listoria de la Candida Enindira (Innocent Erendira), the two "tales for children"
bring to an end the epic style of One Hundred Years of Solitude as Garcia Marquez freed himself to
develop the narrative voices of The Autumn of the Patriarch.

While "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" is obviously a study of the power for good of C10clecz
( illusion (or delusion), the oint or moral of "A Ve Old Man" is considerably less clear, wherein 0
Cif\.. I '
resides its moraL Like its protagonist, e story provokes an resists mora lzing interpretation,. The "fJ,<l!
,,-t, I
\ / ve sim Ie narrative line is complicated by details either comically insi ificant or resonant with "I/;
<: social and political implications: t e rea er must decide whic , when, and what signifies,. Closure iS/~ I ';::(' ~
\ provided by autobiographical elements faniiliar from Garcia Marquez's other work, and at the story's If) r'
heart is the invention of a wackily reimagined angel, an invention that reinvents others' visions '

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" starts in the sad, muddy, poor, yet still iridescent world of
'v the Caribbean litoral, as a couple cope with crabs, rain, and the threatening sickness oftheir new
\ ;:\ born child, On the third day, in the mud of the courtyard, Pelayo the husband finds an old man,
liJ\D __ groaning face down in the mud, unable to rise because he is impeded by his enormous wings, After
\ ~lthe wings, the reader's second surprise is the de-romanticization or de-sentimentalization of the
'v'" angeL This "drenched great-grandfather" with wings is no angel as art has represented angels to us
_J '\ His buzzard wings have parasites; he has few hairs and fewer teeth, and he stinks. To the townsfolk,
'6.':r:~as to the reader, he immediately presents a problem of interpretation: what is he? how should he be
'. .r;,'\()..I; . treated?
\ '. .. '

Thereafter, the angel's story follows a simple trajectory through the townsfolks' response to him An
initially brutal response to a stranger--club him to death, lock him in the chicken coop, put him on a
raft with three-days' provisions--is \eplaced by celebrity, as others crowd to see him. Is he a
supernatural creature or a circus animal? (Here an allegory of the successful artist or the imagination
steps in.) Should he be mayor of the world, a five-star general, or an occasion for eugenics? (Here
politics and ~ngineering insert themselves). The priest has doubts and suspicions, but no
powerful altem;J}ive mterpretation: he consults authority, without success,. (~Iigion, its good
intentions, and its futility make a bow) From nowhere, unexplained, unsummofle-el;troops with
fixed bayonets disperse the mob gathered at Elisenda's house (The prutal force. usually invisible,
•\, ,(}~ that keeps the social order intact and possesses actual, not theoretical power, makes a fleeting
~. \'IJ)'-' '..' J l Appearance,) Sick, he raves like an old Norwegian,. (Garcia Marquez reminds us again that the Norse
\~~. \\~, \~'.frrst discovered America from the west, the initial discovery having corne from the east.) As the
(·:l~ . \· parentheses indicate, the townsfolks' multiplein.terpret.ations and the narrative's.odd details spin off
C'j m different directions, The sto of the an elis mtrmsically coherent but e . he corries
and he go<;;..)'etjust as the oddity of the angel impe s t e townsfolk to interpret, so the ~ddity qfthe
story impels the reader to repeat their activity, interpreting them as well as the angel. '

The desire for coherent interpretation, for narratives that "make sense," is worked through in the
passing of the angel's celebrity. Eventually, the town's attention shifts from an indiffer~nt, perverse
angel who does not speak to them, to a more satisfying and interpretable story, the moral tale of the
girl who was changed into a spider--a tarantula the size ofa ramo-for disobeying her parents, (Like
Erendira, in Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, the metamorphosed girl had earlier
appeared in One Hundred Years of Solitude.) Her story has a clear and useful meaning readily
.~ :sd~r 0<\'\
a Marquez - Critical V i e w s , Page 5 of 5

u \\\~~ ~ S;; ~ -- -\-v C))(\\:~·{\St' c'~ /I & .

{\}apphed m daIly hfe1chonor your father and motherl or at least obey them, and do not go out dancmg .(jur. '/
~ l.,S
all night. The angel, Imwever, does not workJikJULV't. He is ~le and irascible and useless He
may be allegOrized, but the aIlegorization is not he ""'- ,---- . ~ ~
The story ends 1~'Y'.eilfS lat!!F when the, angel's wings grow back and he flies away The child he
saves (or fails to take away) marks the pp'ssage of time, and the angel himself is a battered old man,
a figure traceable to the author's ~randfiither Such a figure, familiar from La horarasca
("Leafstorm"), EI carone/no tiene 'q {i~nle escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel), and One
Hundred Years of Solitude, would 'lP' ear transfonned yet again in The Autumn of the Patriarch and,
later still, as Bolivar in EI general/m SI labertino (The General in His Labyrinth) The angel's last
years as nuisance evoke the senil~ grandl other (Ursula in One Hundred Years of Solitude, "she" in
"Bitterness for Three Sleepwalyers")

Save that hi departure'/as something to do with the ~di{om the sea (inspiration? exile?
freedom?) an hi arrival Joincided with the recovery 0 t le sick baby, we do not know where the
angel came from or where he is going.. He may reflect or incarnate the irlitation of a successful
author (or his inarticulate, unprotected novel, speaking only its own language) poked at and branded,
scolded and suspected, accused of not having a clear and proper moral (a frequent complaint made
in Latin America against One Hundred Years of Solitude when it appeared in 1967), He may be a
scrap that did not make it into that novel (where his opposite number the Wandering Jew appears, '
and Remedios the Beauty rises into the heavens with sheets for wings): what would happen if an:5A ,(,t}';; /70W
angel carne to town, and what would an angel really look like? An image around which II: , '
interpretation laps and breaks, the old angel argues the superiority of the image (and the ~1Je. 17tW'e, cL
imagination) to interpretive apparatus, while he illustrates the irresistible need to interpret. -? ,"/."./? J.I.
'~)I' "() uf.5 Ifr
, Sources:
(Y)cJc:fJUUI J/
)" 1- I d/
III tt/7Ht
Critical Views of Gabriel (Jose) Garcia Marquez' "A Very Old Man with
Enormous Wings":

Faulkner, Tom. "An Overview of 'A Very Old Man with Enormous
Wings,''' Exploring Short Stories. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Rpt. Gale Database: Literature Resource Center, 1999.

Janes, Regina. "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: Overview,"
Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson, St. James
Press, 1994. Rpt. Gale Database: Literature Resource Center, 1999.

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