Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote a short titled story, “ A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. ” This story examines the human response to those who are weak, dependent, and viewed differently. Throughout the story, there are moments of cruelty, and callousness, beginning when an old man is found lying face down in a pile of mud with huge buzzard wings. With no knowledge as to what kind of creature the man is, the family took him in to be examined, used as entertainment, and eventually used his un-canning features to their benefit. By the close of the story, Marquez has drawn out that as humans, we do not admire what we can not understand.
The story begins after a long storm, when a man named Pelayo is getting rid of crab carcasses that have left his child ill. As he is returning to his home, he finds an old man with large wings, who is filthy and appears to speak an unknown language. Belittled and unsure of what to do with him, Pelayo runs home to get his wife, Elisenda, where they then observe his “huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud. They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar” (11-13).
When the husband and wife first see what is thought to be an angel, it is surprising that they focus more on his appearance, choosing to view him as dirty and disgusting, rather than amazing and a different creature. As the old man lays in the mud with what appears to be wings, it is a display of how easily people tend to overlook the wonders in front of them, just because he is seen as gruesome and his wings set him apart from the normal human nature. Elisenda and Pelayo then took the old man in, housing him in a chicken coop, treating him like nothing less than the hens that lived there.
Without the slightest bit of guilt, or feeling for this old man, the surrounding neighborhoods had driven in to take sight of the unknown creature. “.. tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if he weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal” ( 28-29). The people had used him as a source of their entertainment, because labeling him as a circus animal was the only explanation that they had, they could not accept him as a supernatural being. The couple had then called in Father Gonzaga to confirm whether or not this creature was a man of God. The parish priest had his first suspicion of an imposter when he saw that he did not understand the language of God or know how to greet His ministers. Then he noticed that seen close up he was too much human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels” (40-44). After reading the Priest’s opinions, we are lead to see the tendencies of people that try to rationalize what is unknown and turn to the pre-conceived ideas of stereotypes.
The Priest and the people, expected an angel to be gorgeous, majestic, glorious, and to speak Latin. Due to not having any of the assumed qualities of an angel, the Priest immediately confirms the man is not an angel and does not show any further interest in wanting to learn more. Again, curious people came from far away to view the “Circus Act. ” All of the people who had come to view the old man, all wanted something out of it for their selfish reasons, but most came in search of health. Elisenda and Pelayo were exhausted, but happy nonetheless with all of the money they were beginning to earn. The angel was the only one who took no part in his own act… His only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience. Especially during the first days, when the hens pecked at him, searching for the stellar parasites that proliferated his wings, and the cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing” ( 62-70). This is a true depiction of the cruelty of human nature, he is something different, but they only choose to view him as a source to their everlasting entertainment.
The onlookers are hoping that he will perform miracles, and yet they treat him terribly and with no humanity. After trying to discover whether or not the “captive” had a navel, if his language could be understood, amongst other things, these means of cruel curiosity had come to a halt. A woman who had been changed into a spider for disobeying her parents had come into town with a carnival attraction; the town had come to the likes of learning about her, because there was more truth in believing her story due to there being a moral lesson. A spectacle like that, full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat without even trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals” (91-93). These people are unable to think for themselves once they see that she has a true story that is credible. It is easier for them to reject the angel than to try to take the time to understand his differences. Once the family had saved enough money, they took their profits and built a two-story mansion with balconies and gardens.
The child who was once sick from the crab carcasses had gotten better, he had taken it upon himself to visit the chicken coops to play. “.. The angel was no less standoffish with him than with the other mortals, but he tolerated the most ingenious infamies with the patience of a dog who had no illusions. They both came down the with chicken pox at the same time” (107-110). The small child was innocently going to see the old man with unselfish reasons, he did not want to harm, judge or treat him any differently for his appearances.
Marquez is playing on the mere fact that children are far more open and accepting to foreign people than adults are. Telling us that both the adult and the child got chicken pox at the same time, was a way of subtly showing their deeper and understanding relationship. Over time, the chicken coop had collapsed and the angel was thought to have been dying due to dragging himself along. The old man had only few feathers left, a temperature at night, and was deliriously speaking languages. Becoming alarmed, they believed that the old man was going to die, and they didn’t know what to do with him if that had happened.
When the sun had returned, it appeared as though he was getting better. One day, as Elisenda was in her kitchen, she saw the angels first attempt at flight. “Elisenda let out a sigh of relief, for herself, and for him, when she watched him pass over the last houses, holding himself up in some way with risky flapping of a senile vulture. She kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea” (133-136).
This angel was the result of Elisenda and Pelayo’s new found luxuries, but rather than be in awe of him being an angel, she overlooked it due to her superficial nature. This story begins and ends with showing that humans are materialistic people who overlook what isn’t understood. In Susan de Carvalho’s critical essay, “Origins of Social Pessimism in Garcia Marquez: ‘The Night of the Curfews”, she says that, “ the author’s pessimism reflects a belief that humanity is fundamentally not merely unvirtuous but actually evil” (1).
Throughout the length of the story, everyone ignores this old man for what he is, a beautiful angel, although he may be dirty, he still holds the same qualities as any other human and they choose to ignore that due to his appearance. Although Marquez writes his story in what would fall under fantasy, he writes it in a fashion that blurs us into not being able to distinguish present reality from fantasy. All in all, humanity is cruel, especially in this story, it seems as though nothing can occur that would bring these people to look past his features and witness a miracle.