The supposed angel in the story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez differs from the usual conception of angels with the following characteristics: its physical appearance, its effect upon the community, and the paranormal occurrences of its presence. The usual conception on the images of angels are romanticized – images of blonde children with small, white wings and rosy cheeks. However, the ‘angel’ in Marquez’s story is described as an old man, dirty, smelly, and possesses rotting wings.
“He was dressed like a ragpicker.
There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather had taken away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever tangled in mud” (Marquez, 387). In addition, the use of the word ‘enormous’ used to described the old man’s wings are strewn with mud and rotting, full of small insects and parasites. The characters in the story immediately perceive the old man to be a fallen angel, because of the state of his wings.
Also, the enormity of the wings give emphasis on Marquez use of the magic realism genre in the story. The shape and size of the wings may be exaggerated in a realistic point of view but the use of enormous gives the reader a more realistic approach to the old man. It also presents an ordinary experience on part of the characters – since Pelayo and Elisenda did not express shock of the old man’s appearance but of his condition – lying in the mud and in a downcast state. As the story revolves on the theme of magical realism, the characters in the story do not express shock over the old man’s appearance.
They exhibit behaviour as though they see kinds of magical creatures often in their lives. Indeed, the first reaction of the couple is more a contradiction toward the whole theme of the story – a realistic perspective. They deduced that the old man may be a castaway from a ship across the sea that was wrecked by some storm. They based their judgement when they tried to ask the old man and responded in a strong sailor’s voice with a foreign dialect. However, the couple was not convinced and decided to ask a woman who had experience with such matters.
The old woman needed only a glance and immediately concluded that the old man was an angel sent to take the couple’s ailing child (Marquez, 388). Thus, the themes of magic and realism come together from different point of views. The old man’s effect on the community, upon hearing the suggestion of the old woman, also became magical in one point. As exhibited by the behaviour of the townspeople in the story, they immediately associate the angel with various miracles and scenarios – that the angel was sent to be the leader of the world, to be a five star general in order to end wars, and such.
The angel is also viewed by the community not as a supernatural creature but rather as a circus animal. After all the commotion the old man brought to the community, the couple decided to charge a fee for everybody who wanted to see the angel. Its popularity declined when a circus act visited the town with a spider-lady as its main attraction. The people favored the spider-woman over the angel as the spider had a personal story on why she turned to such while the angel did nothing but sit on the chicken coop.
Marquez presents an alternative conception of the angel – that the spider, with all its grotesquery and exhibiting usual emotions like pain and emotional suffering, greatly amused the people rather than an old, mute angel rotting in its place. People favored amusement, even if the object is supernatural in nature. Apart from this, Marquez presents the angel to be a mere object of interest for only a limited time until the townspeople shifted their attention toward the spider. Angels are often regarded to be holy beings, that are capable of miracles, and provides ‘good’ in people’s lives.
But the angel in the story remains isolated from the community and only act as though he had no care of his condition. His characteristics were also a downfall toward the perception of the community – he was old, toothless, with rotting wings and a pronounced stench. Even though the old man was first conceived as an angel, people did not pay the same amount of attention compared to the spider-woman, who exhibited an emotional plight that greatly amused the people. The paranormal presence of the angel did not stir bewilderment on the characters of the story – instead they presented keen interest and ill-disguised curiosity.
Also, their immediate association of the old man as a universal solution to all their worldly-problems became the definitive character of the angel. Yet, they did not bother to place the angel in greater prominence, as they ignored him until one day, he grew new wings and began to fly toward the ocean horizon. The disappearance of the angel also coincided with the growth of Pelayo and Elisenda’s child, and deduced that the angel took away the child’s sickness. And because of the fee they charged to see the angel, the couple became rich from their profits.
Marquez persuades the reader into a personal interpretation of the old man – just like the people in the story. He presents the old man with its characteristics and it is up to the reader to decide whether it is an angel or not. However, Marquez also utilizes several peculiar situations and characteristics that coincide with the angel’s presence in the story. His enormous wings is the main point. It appears as though it was nothing out of the extraordinary; that the characters in the story were accustomed to seeing wings deeply implanted in a person’s structure.
Also, as the angel grew another set of wings, it could have been assumed that it would resemble the pearly-white color of a real angel but the old man’s wings were that of a scarecrow (Marquez, 392). Marquez leaves room for interpretation on the part of the reader as to what the old man really is. He presents a wholly different perspective of an angel, as presented by the examples of the people in which the old revolved upon. It may be an angel or just an old, toothless man with enormous wings.