Angels of Despair: A Researched Paper on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”
In today's society it is often the case that we exclude the people and the things that do not make sense to us, or more often than not, do not fit in the rules and regulations of good "society." This is especially true in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings." The story takes place in early times, as a baby lies dying from an unknown disease. In a twist of events, a dirty angel falls from the sky and takes residence with the family who exploit him for money. As the reader navigates the story, it is evident of the role of the Catholic Church in the lives of this family, and how they generally abuse those who are different from themselves. This can be defined as xenophobia: “An unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of anything which is foreign or strange” (Merriam-Webster.com). Through his use of satire of the faults of the Catholic Church, motifs, and xenophobia as a model for cruelty and exploitation Marquez develops “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” to comment on the faults of society as a whole.
As a writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez often composes his works in the vein of magical realism. Magical realism is an “aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality” (Zamora and Faris 5). This has allowed Marquez to introduce the idea of angels, spider women, and other strange creatures to create morals within the guidelines of the story. An example from within the story comes when “the angel is found they are shocked to see an angel, and yet they never question its existence. The reality of the situation is never mistrusted; however, the angel itself is an astounding manifestation” (Van Tillman and Goodall).
One of the main focuses of the story is the use of satire, motifs, and symbols to highlight the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church and their need to label and understand everything that occurs around them. In the opening scene, the child of the family laying whilst crabs march across a yard that was essentially a sea of mud. The father of the boy, Pelayo discovers “the fallen body with mute stupor” (Marquez 269). The first thing Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda attempt to do is compare the “fallen body” to that of a “ragpicker” and the inclusion of “huge buzzard wings” (269). In fact: “They looked at him so long in the end they found him familiar” (269). This highlights another flaw within society. There in front of the main characters lies a man, unlike anything they’ve ever seen, and yet within a few moments it became “familiar” (269), and they’ve already begun to label this man in accordance with their own ideals.
The story is a satirical piece that quietly criticizes the Catholic religious views and the way humans react to the situations that are different from the norm. Márquez critiques the church and the lack of compassion of the elders in Rome. They are not worried by the veracity of the the existence of the supposed angel. They asked Father Gonzaga to analyze the actions of the old man’s incoherent language and whether it impacts the Aramaic language of Jesus. Additionally, they ask Gonzaga to verify the number of times the old man fits on the head of a pin. In addition, Marquez lashes out at the Catholics as he references the mysterious medieval perspective in order to prove the omnipotence of God. The end result is that the very old man with the wings finds himself as a stranded Norwegian sailor and as such the church comes off as being absurd and literal-minded. In fact, the church appears out of reality with the fundamental aspects of reality. Nevertheless, the church’s waits to see the tactics that results when the old man flies away.
The fact is that these criticisms of the church forms part of Márquez’s criticism of human behavior overall. In fact, individuals cannot understand the fundamental importance of life because of their capacity for cruelty, evil, and detachment. Conversely, there is a narrowed mental picture that one imparts when the power of cruelty surfaces. The wise, unthinking woman, the kind-hearted Father Gonzaga, who desperately tries to follow the Christian procedure, the curious onlookers, and selfish pilgrims all deviate from the true Christian principles. However, Elisenda is far more focused on cleaning her living-room and kitchen free from the angel instead of looking at the wonders of the unwanted visitor. Nonetheless, she faces a moment of understanding and regret in the end. She watches as the old man vanishes out of her life permanently. Marquez implies that a number of individuals are not aware of their importance in the world.
According to a 1975 experiment by psychologist Albert Bandura, “When labels are attached to people, they're dehumanized, making it easier to act cruelly” (Baer). Oddly enough, this foreshadows the events to come. Before they even offer the man any sign of kindness they call a neighbor woman who labels him as an angel of death. After leaving him in the rain and mud overnight, Pelayo “dragged him out of the mud and locked him up with the hens in the wire chicken coop,” (Marquez 270). One would think within the realm of human nature that they would’ve offered the man some semblance of comfort, but instead the next morning they found the “whole neighborhood” prodding him without the “slightest reverence,” and instead of defending the men and/or shooing them away (270), Pelayo and Elisenda began collecting and “cramm[ing]” their rooms full of money (271). Out of fear for their child’s life (even though they really had no evidence to fear him), they began to use this strange man, at first, to keep their child alive, and then to profit from his despair. They turned the man into a circus, quite literally with a traveling carnival coming to profit on the large number of people that came to visit, however, “the angel was the only one who took no part in his own act” (271). In that sense, the man lay wasting away without the slightest care from others.
According to Philip G. Zimbardo, professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, “When people have an ideology to justify their actions, they'll do bad things” (Baer). Before the sun could even raise, the priest of the story, Father Gonzaga, arrived to analyze this old man with enormous wings. Without any pity of the man drying his wings in the sunlight, he mutters “Good morning” in Latin without really offering him any consolation. The man, not understanding Latin, does not respond, and the priest immediately concludes that the old man is an imposter (270). How, though, can a man of the earth look at something as awe-inspiring as a man with wings and because he did not greet him in the “right way,” the priest dismisses him as an imposter. He was not the beautiful image Father Gonzaga had imagined for an angel, and because the man was foreign and strange, he condemned him. After all, who wants to believe that angels would be strewn with parasites, dirty, and rolling around in the mud of the countryside?
The abuse of this man seemed to never end. They branded him with a cattle prod to provoke a response. They plucked his feathers and struck him. It was only after the collapse of the chicken coop, that they showed the old man a shred of compassion and they “threw a blanket over him and extended him the charity of letting him sleep in the shed” (Marquez 274). It was after this small act of compassion that the old man began to heal, and he was able to regrow his feathers and take flight once more. Consequently, Marquez may have even intended to remind readers of the advice found in Hebrews 13:2 in the Bible: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” The gift of the angel being, that he allowed their child to live. Only once he flew off, was Elisenda able to “let out a sigh of relief for herself and for him, when she saw him pass over the last houses” (274).
Marquez makes the idea prosperity as an indication of the wonders that the old man brings to the narrative. At the start of the story, Elisenda and her family are poor and their son is quite ill. However, the angel brings prosperity to them as he draws people to the house. These villagers pay a small fee in order to see the spectacle. The money that the couple collects helps to establish a new business and improve their living conditions. Marquez uses the wings as a symbolic technique that represents freedom to move, swiftness, and power. Based on the Christian culture, angels and winged creatures are symbolic elements in the story. They represent the need to be free of poverty. The old man and his wings are bedraggled and dirty, but they are powerful. It is the novelty of seeing an angel with wings that draws the attention of the crowds of people to the home. The doctor finds amusement in the way the old man’s wings fits his body. In addition, he wonders why people, in general do not possess a pair of wings. This effect implies that the old man is a natural, heavenly body. Additionally, the old man is symbolic of the power of an angelic creature as well as the frailties of a typical individual.
García Márquez’s literary reputation cannot be separate from the magical realism, that literary use to describe the distinctive combination realism and fantasy in Marquez’s and the work of a number of other Latin American authors. The Magical-realist fiction includes much true-to-life events that punctuates moments of whimsical and symbolic fantasy the authors describe in a matter-of-fact tone. The angel is magical and his wings create the fantasy that he comes to ease the problems in the lives of the villagers. Magical realism is an established variety in much of Latin America mainly because the structure and style. In fact, the magical realism is deeply rooted in folkloric storytelling of the rural society. The wide-reaching popularity of Márquez’s style of writing testifies to a structure that readers can easily to.
The story of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” represents the writing style that stem from magical realism that is clear in the actions of the flying man, Elisenda and Pelayo’s, and the woman who became a spider woman. These characters present a tone that shows identical ideas about parts of the fairy tale world and the local-color story that exists to entertain. From the onset of story, Márquez’s style appears with an unusual and fairy tale–like narrative of the persistent rain. He opens the story with the description of “a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings,” (269). Marquez notes that the world is sad as it mingles with the ordinary and fantastic in every description in the story. These elements include the influx of crabs that plague Elisenda and Pelayo’s home. In addition, the crabs invade “the muddy sand” on the beach. In fact, the grayness created by the rain appears as a powdery. It is here that the readers see the dreamy setting with the old winged man.
In addition, Marquez ironically looks at the human reaction to individuals who are weak, reliant, and diverse. There are instances of prominent unkindness and callousness during the story. When Pelayo and Elisenda’s child recuperates from his illness the parents decides to place the old man on a raft with supplies for three days instead of killing him. As soon as they realize that they can earn financial benefits by putting him on display. As a result, Pelayo and Elisenda detain him in a chicken coop on the outside. The strangers throw stones and gawk at him and show the humans lack of kindness in the world. In addition, one sees the power of cruelty as they burn him with hot branding irons and lead the readers to empathize with because of the cruelty of humans. But, the old man’s level of tolerance is remarkable. He is physically weaker than the villagers, but stronger mentally. In fact, his tolerance in the face of prejudice, bigotry, and loneliness is a clear indication of God’s true presence in the society.
During these callous moments, the people exploit the circumstances and show little or no compassion for the loneliness that the old man experiences. In fact, one sees that the villagers only care about their selfish desires as they make a mockery of the events. Even though Elisenda and Pelayo unwillingly take in the old man, he eventually becomes a part of the household. In fact, when the old man leaves, the readers see that Elisena develops a sense of compassion. She regrets his departure. Arguably, it is the old man patience as he deals with the villagers that change Pelayo’s and Elisenda’s views on life. He shows that there is more to an individual than what meets the eye. In addition, old man shows that good come in many forms, but the villagers see the selfish good in the angel. Arguably, the old man’s refusal to leave is an act of compassion and a way to assist the impoverished couple. One could say that Márquez reminds readers of Hebrews 13:2: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
In concluding, humans are selfish by nature, yet there are factors in life that helps to change the selfishness into compassion. In addition, individuals often have difficulty adjusting to behaviors that deviates from the norms of the society. The old man is unkempt and the villagers quickly disregard his existence until they realize that he can help their situation. In addition, the selfishness becomes clearer as Elisenda wants the old man to leave even though he brings property, security, money, and a better life. Clearly, humans are ungrateful by nature and are unwilling to see the reality of every situation. Marquez shows that although the angel presents a miracle for these people, the human mind cannot embrace what is at the forefront of the mind. Arguably, it is the innate prejudice in all humans that leads to the poor treatment that the angel receives. Elisenda cannot appreciate that there is good in every bad situation and therefore, she mistreats the old man. In the end, Marquez successfully satirizes the flaws of individuals in the society.
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