Short Story Spotlight: A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Saturday, May 21, 2011

For this month's Short Story Spotlight, I read "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which can be read here. I chose this story mainly because I'm trying to explore magical realism and I saw a reference to this story somewhere that I can no longer remember.

In the story, Pelayo and Elisenda are poor parents trying to save their sick child. One evening as they try to improve the cleanliness of their home after a storm, they find a very old man with enormous wings lying helpless in the dirt. Unsure of what he is, they ask a "wise" neighbor woman, who tells them it is an angel who came to take their child and advises them to club it to death. Instead, Pelayo and Elisenda imprison the "angel" in their chicken coop and charge visitors to see it. Even after the novelty has worn off, they continue to keep the angel, who develops a sort of parallel-ness with their growing child, and one day flies away.

One of the things I love most about short stories is the fact that it allows the author to explore a fancy, a strange idea. A short story doesn't involve the same commitment as a novel, so the author can indulge in the bizarre and fantastical. (Having said this, I haven't read any of GGM's novels so they might be just as bizarre). This story really conveyed a sense of wonder to me, despite the angel's decrepit appearance and lack of showy powers. A theme that struck me was that of reality differing from expectation. The people in the town have preconceived notions of what an angel can do - the neighbor woman thinks it should be killed because "angels were fugitive survivors of a spiritual conspiracy." Pilgrims think it will cure them of their varied ailments and diseases. The angel does seem to have powers, but they are not what the people expected - sunflowers bloom from their leprosy sores. The priest in the town is skeptical of him when he can't speak Latin, the language of God. The creature is never certified as an angel, but even if he was an angel, the villagers would never accept him because he is different from their expectation.

The second thing I found interesting was that, because the angel (I will just call it that because it is shorter than "the very old man with enormous wings") was a creature different from anything the townspeople had encountered, he grew up in a different way. He is a very old man who mostly lies in the corner of the chicken coop and only eats eggplant mush. However, as the child he supposedly came for grows up, getting childhood diseases like chicken pox, the angel has the same experiences. The angel begins growing new feathers and flies away, which to me seemed similar to a child gaining independence.

While I am sure there is more to the story that I did not pick up, I feel very satisfied with this story. Despite its seeming simplicity and the fact that it is subtitled "A Story for Children," I think the story has layers of meaning waiting to be interpreted. If you are interested in or a fan of magical realism, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is a great place to start.

Your Move, Dickens has a great perspective on this story as well (Google directed me there when I was searching for an image).


  1. That is an interesting approach to people's expectations and strangeness. Great review!

  2. I haven't read this story in a while, but I always loved it. Yes, if magical realism is something you want to explore, you can't go wrong with Marquez. Try Kafka (for more short stories) and also novels by Allende (like House of Spirits).

    Thanks! -Miss GOP

  3. @Pepca - Thanks! I enjoyed the way Marquez presented the idea.

    @Miss GOP - Thank you for the recommendations! I have an Allende book waiting to be read, and will definitely look into Kafka.


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