A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the popular works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez which used the principle of Magical Realism was the short story entitled A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. In magical realism, the merging of myth and reality can be seen.
Marquez, in his stories, used magical realism to describe certain realities. For this particular short story, he was trying to state realities about Catholicism.
Pelayo and Elisenda were dazed when they saw the rubbish, old man on their courtyard. Pelayo even thought he was in a nightmare. However, when they saw the man’s wings, he instantly became “familiar” to them. Angels were always portrayed by the Church as someone who has wings.
The wings would look like from a hawk or a dove. If the wings were similar to a bat’s, he could be perceived as the Devil himself. This occurrence of having an angel on earth did not appear to cause panic in the story. Like the stories in the Bible, miracles, visions of angels or symbols from God seem to happen naturally without question.
Unlike an angel which the Church would describe as young, innocent and magnificently dressed in white clothes, the man in the courtyard was, as Marquez illustrated, “like a ragpicker”.
He was a very old man lying face down on the mud and his wings all dirty and half-plucked (Marquez 1). This not so angelic stature was reason enough for the neighbor to conclude that he was a “fugitive” from heaven and Pelayo should club him to death.
The suggestion as to how the angel should die was very cruel especially for someone who was once worthy to stand before God and be His messenger. The Church teaches the same fate for all sinners. They are said to be banished from Heaven and will forever suffer in the fires of Hell.
Pelayo was not able to bring himself to kill him. He, instead, dragged him to the chicken coop. If he looked like someone as majestic as an angel, many would not settle him along with the hens. Some would offer him the entire house with the softest pillows and warm mattresses. The Church may even build an altar or a church for him.
In the morning, the newborn child who had been feverish before the angel came was well and eating. Pelayo and Elisenda decided to dispose the angel by placing him on a raft with three-day supply of fresh water and provisions. It may have occurred to them that the angel was sent by God for a purpose.
He may have been sent to heal the child or to take the child’s soul and end his suffering. But now that the child had recovered completely, they did not see the use of the angel anymore. This is common for some religious people.
They only seek divine guidance when in dire need of something. If an intense obstacle comes their way, they pray fervently or go to church often. Some also go to the church just to show to people that they are indeed religious. But when all is well, some tend to forget or do not see it necessary to pray or to go to church.
The plan of disposing the angel forever did not push through after seeing the whole neighborhood gathered in front of the chicken coop, amused with the angel. More were coming every day.
Elisenda decided to take advantage of the many curious people coming to see the angel. She began charging five cents for anybody who would like to view the angel.
This is a similar reality in the Church. When apparitions or miracles are reported to happen in a certain location, there are some people who take advantage by soliciting financial donations or by distributing money envelopes through which donors are promised to be included in the prayers and will consequently be blessed.
Most of the people who came to the courtyard wanted to verify the rumor about an angel. Upon seeing him as not meeting their physical expectations of an angel, they started to provoke him to prove himself that he does pass the standards of an angel. He was, however, non-responsive.
He did not take offense of the things that were thrown to him. He only reacted once teary-eyed when people burned his side with an iron for branding steers. He was not able to communicate with the people as he spoke in a language that they did not understand. The people, on the other hand, did not care to find any other means to communicate with him.
They continued to be rude and started giving him names. If something appears to be out of the norms of the society like in how they dress or behave, they are most likely to experience maltreatment. The Church in the olden times displayed such behavior.
For individuals who strayed away from the beliefs of the Church or who attempted to defy them, they were declared as excommunicates. Excommunicates were treated like people of lower stature, as outcasts or as criminals.
A representative of the Church, Father Gonzaga, tried to identify him if he was really an angel. He tried to speak to him in Latin, the official language of God. But the angel did not seem to understand and spoke in a different dialect.
Father Gonzaga instantly suspected an impostor upon noticing that he did not speak and understand Latin. Up close, he also saw him as much more human-like. He had the outdoor smell and his wings had been infested with parasites. He did not see him as an angel at all. Instead he said to the people, this may be a trick from the Devil.
This, again, refers to the standard description of the Church on how a heavenly being was supposed to be. Just because the angel was not able to comprehend the so-called official language of God, he was concluded as not a person coming from God. He was instead declared to possibly come from somewhere else. There was no deeper investigation initiated as to what kind of dialect he was using.
He was also judged based on how he smelled and his physical appearance. For someone who had been living with the chickens, there was no doubt as to how he could have acquired such characteristics. Anybody would not be able to maintain his magnificence under such conditions.
To prove if the angel was an impostor or not, Father Gonzaga had to write a letter to his bishop who would, in turn, write a letter to the Supreme Pontiff then the verdict will be obtained from the higher courts (Marquez 1). This set-up indicates that those from the lower ladder like Father Gonzaga do not have the power to judge what is religiously true as the ones above him.
He would have to seek for the judgment elsewhere, perhaps from a place far away from where he was. Not being in the proximity of the event in question, there is a possibility for facts to be distorted or to be judged subjectively.
The exchange of letters asking verifying questions would take time and not much urgency will come out from it. The answers given for these questions may be subjective or opinionated and may affect the final verdict altogether.
As an angel, he was expected to have healing powers. A number of invalids and people who had health problems came to the courtyard. But the outcome became a comedy and people branded the angel as someone with a mental disorder.
A blind man seeking for sight grew three new teeth, a paralytic wanting to walk almost won the lottery and a leper sprouted sunflowers instead of sores (Marquez 1).
Adding to the many other disproving evidence, Father Gonzaga and the people had finally settled to the fact that they have an impostor not an angel. He was then abandoned and forgotten entirely. The woman in the carnival who turned into a tarantula became more interesting and more worthy of their attention.
Though nobody seemed to have gained interest anymore with the angel, Pelayo and Elisenda benefited so much from the admission fees they had collected. They were able to rebuild their house and bought new clothes. Though the angel had brought them so much, he was still left to live in the pen. Some people, though declaring themselves as religious, do not always return to others the blessings they had received.
The angel became more of a nuisance. It was only the child who seemed to understand him and played with him. They did not realize or even cared that he was running a fever at night and singing chants under the stars. When he left, all they felt was relief that he was gone.
Marquez had left the interpretation of his use of magical realism to his readers. The story may look like a story for children but looking deeply, he was actually portraying reality.
Marquez, Gabriel, Garcia. “A Very Old Man with Enromous Wings.” Short Story Classics. 2004. 29 March 2008. http://www.geocities.com/cyber_explorer99/garciamarquezoldman.html.
Moore, Lindsay. “Magical Realism.” 1998. 29 March 2008. http://english.emory.edu/Bahri/MagicalRealism.html.