Analysis of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings


Analysis of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

Mike Herschel

August 13, 2009



Analysis of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

            One shall have to forgive me for the use of first person with this brief analysis, as I loved this story and cannot help but be fairly gushing in regard. Three readings were needed to determine what exactly is so intriguing about this story that, on the face of it, appeared to be so silly and nonsensical. After all, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ tale about an old man with dirty and broken wings seen falling to earth and then, after a fashion, flying away (Gardener, Lawn, Schakel, & Ridl, 2009) cannot have any basis in the real world, can it?        

            Although never given a name, or assigned intelligible dialogue, the main character is an angel fallen to earth at the very time when a rural family is suffering from three days with a very sick child and constant, torrential rain. The very idea of a winged humanoid evokes the image of angels, and most of the villagers quickly assume that he is an angel. The old man with wings is given refuge in a chicken coop and the family that has taken him begins to collect money for allowing anyone to see their captive celestial being. The local priest decided that the old man bore no stature to measure up to the proud decorum of angels (Gardener, Lawn, Schakel, & Ridl, 2009), so no comparison or adulation was needed. Held captive by Pelayo and Elisenda, he is displayed like a circus animal or sideshow freak: poked, plucked, and prodded, branded with a hot iron, pelted with stones and garbage, and held prisoner for years in a filthy chicken coop exposed to the elements. While the villagers looked at him as a conceited angel who could scarcely behold mortals, the old man would only tolerate the company of the formerly sick little girl who had recovered when the angel first appeared. Other not-quite-so-impressive miracles were seen: a blind man’s sight isn’t restored, but he suddenly grows three new teeth, the leper’s sores aren’t cured, but sunflowers begin growing from them. The other characters, in a comic effort to explain him or to assign some meaning to his sudden appearance, finally just put up with his annoying presence. After years in the chicken coop, the old man’s health seems to be irreversibly poor and is seen to degrade to the point of death, but with the arrival of a new spring, many years later, his wings re-grow and his health improves so much so that when he flies away at the story’s end, the mystery remains (Gardener, Lawn, Schakel, & Ridl, 2009).

            My research of this story led me to critics that could not bear to assign a supernatural visage to the visitor with broken wings and a much disheveled appearance. I can barely tolerate citing one. A review published by new York University in its Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database said (New York University, 1993-2009), called the story an example of magic-realism; to be believed as a new genre that mixes fantasy and reality to the point of blurred comprehension. St. Michael, the Archangel, could weep at such a travesty of ochre-colored journalism. The story’s stages of awe, mistrust, annoyance of supernatural being in their house, villagers making demands upon the angel all lent great satisfaction to my personal understanding that Marquez was not attempting comic metaphor in the least; she held a story of a fallen angel and intended to seriously recount it.

            The theme, to me, was that being a miraculous being was simply not good enough; that people will not recognize a miracle when they see one. If any confusion abounded, it was the character of the spider woman; a child of the circus, whose inclusion in the story confounded me until I realized that the character marked yet another turning point in the tale; whereas a slight distraction was enough to lure the crowd from a bone fide miracle to a contrived performance (Gardener, Lawn, Schakel, & Ridl, 2009): a sad anecdote. The story bears no relevance to personal experiences but caused some re-reading to ensure complete understanding. If I ever encounter an old man, stuck in the mud, with anything that look like feathers on his body, I promise to show a little more respect than Marquez’ villagers did in this story.


Gardener, J. E., Lawn, B., Schakel, P., & Ridl, J. (2009). Literature: A Portable Anthology. New York/Boston: Bedford/St. Martin.

New York University. (1993-2009). Literature Annotations. Retrieved August 4, 2009, from Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database:   action=view&annid=12287

Russell, R. (2008). Complete King Jame sBible. Retrieved August 4, 2009, from Bible History Online: