A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

      A Tale for Children


1.  Narrative Technique

  • Narrator is Omniscient Intrusive.   
  • The Narrator tells us what the situation is and describes all the characters and actions.  He tells us what the characters are thinking and feeling.  He also makes general comments about the action and the characters.  the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the angel, without the slightest reverence, tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if he weren't a supernatural creature but a circus animal.  p.218-9.  His only supernatural virture seemed to be patience. 221.
  • those consolation miracles, which were more like mocking fun, ...222.
  • A genial tone of narration--like in a fairy tale narrator.  ex.  It so happened that during those days, among so many other carnival attractions, there arrived in town the traveling show of the woman who had been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents.   
  • Learned from Kafka the technique of telling the fantasy as though it's completely normal and a real happening.
  • The whole story is told by the Omniscent narrator with the exception of paragraph 3, which is direct statement from the "neighbor woman who knew everything about life and death.." 
  • Comic exaggeration.  Wonderful "straight" presentation of the ridiculous.  The woman who knew everything about life and death.  The priest speaking latin; the woman turned into a spider.  The figure of the clumsy, ugly, inept old man with the wings of an angel. the wonderful suggestions about what the angel could do--be mayor of the world; 5 star general; stud.   the crazy parody of miracles--lame man wins the lottery; blind man who grew 3 teeth.
2.  Plot

  • One rainy night Pelayo discovers a very old man with enormous wings lying in the mud in his courtyard.  This strange supernatural creature creates quite a turmoil in the world of the peasant seaside community.  Is he an angel or isn't he? The community treats him as a curiosity--  Pelayo and his wife set him up as a freak in a circus sideshow and get rich off the curiosity of the world; the Priest tests whether he's an angel or not.  When his curiosity value is surpassed by the woman who was changed into a spider, the world and the family neglect him.  He never communicates with anyone and finally he grows new feathers and flys away.
  • A strange creature suddenly appears in the village.  He doesn't fit the stereotypes of an angel.  The story explores the range of responses to this supernatural creature from curiosity, to cruelty.  He enters their closed world and they never can open to find out who he is or why he's there.  They treat him as a freak, like the woman who was changed into a spider.  He patiently endures their insensitivity and exploitation and then one day flys away.
3.  Setting

  • Action takes place in a modest sea-side home of Pelayo and Elisenda somewhere in the Carribean.  What is central about the setting is that it is a rural, peasant community which enjoys travelling sideshows with all their wonders of the world.

4.  Character
  • the story doesn't focus on character.  Not about character change or insight.  no one changes during the course of the story.  The characters are all types with the exception of the old man with wings.
  •  Pelayo and Elisenda learn nothing from the old man.  They exploit the voyeurism of the community and get rich from making him star in a freak show.  Elisenda has the idea to exploit him and is also relieved to see him fly away after his usefulness is over.
  • The Priest is a comic figure--the butt of satire about the ch bureaucracy and the rigidity of narrow religious views.  His proof that the old man is not an angel because he doesn't speak latin, the language of god, is hilarious.  The representative of the church, the insitution in charge of angels can't communicate with this one.
  • The neighbor woman who knows everything about life and death is also a fine comic figure.  She defines him as an angel and thinks he should be beaten to death because he's a fallen angel.  She has the only direct speech in the story.
  • The Doctor is an interesting character because he has the key thought about the old man:  what surprised him most, however, was the logic of his wings.  They seemed so natural on that completely human organism that he couldn't understand why other men didn't have them too.   
  • Of course, the most interesting character is the old man with enormous wings.    He is a supernatural figure--an angel but the opposite of all the stereotypes.  He's pathetic and ugly and passive.  He does nothing but endure the various indignities that the people inflict on him..  The Narrator never gives his inner thoughts or experiences.  He remains an enigmatic figure. He does not communicate with anyone.  He speaks an incomprehensible language and is ugly and inept.  He comes, he hangs around, and one day flys away.  No message, no action.  The opposite of what angels are supposed to be---messengers of God.  He is essentially a catalyst figure.  His importance is as a figure who causes a range of responses in the people who meet him.  He has one positive quality:  His only supernatural virture seemed to be patience.   But he's essentially a comic figure--inept, farcical, face down in the mud with his wings stuck;  his buzzard wings; his clumsy thrashing about, his crazy miracles and the farcial last flight.

5.  Symbol
  • The major symbolism is the old man as an angel.  The wings symbolize an angel in spite of the priest's delightful about the significance of wings.  Everyone in the story believes that he's an angel because he has wings.  
  • But the most intriguing symbolic statement is from the doctor's mind:  the logic of his wings.  they seemed so natural that he couldn't understand why other men didn't have them too.  Wings have a long history of symbolizing the human imagination.  The wings of thought soaring.  Icarus, for example.  Flights of imagination.  So the logic of wings.  why don't others have them?  That could be a major point.  The people can't engage the old man because they have no imagination.  They can't break out of their conventional views of angels. 
6.  Theme  

  • Marquez gives a clue to the meaning of the story with his subtitle:  A Tale for Children.  It suggests that it has the quality of a fairy tale meant to teach children a lesson.  The narrative manner of the story, the tone of once upon a time and the matter of fact recounting of the supernatural events has the quality of a fairy tale.  But of course it's not a story for children, but for adults.  Marquez writes it as though addressing children--it has the quality of simple and straightforward storytelling.   But the Narrator is very consciously ironic in the way he describes the characters and the events.  He makes fun of the neighbor woman with the nice comic exaggeration: "who knew everything about life and death."  His parody of the miracles; the treatment of the Priest as a comic figure.  Of course, the great fun M. has is creating an angel figure that is the comic antithesis of the conventional views.  He creates an angel who is ugly, inept, pathetic and powerless.  who can't communicate, can't do a miracle right, can't see straight and can barely get off the ground to fly away.
  • So what's the point?  What's the moral of the story for "children.?"  Don't judge  folks by appearences. .  Children should read the story and be critical of the humans in the story for the way they treat this mysterious stranger.   They are so limited in their responses that they never make any real effort to communicate with him.  They miss the oportunity to learn--to have their vision expanded.   The doctor may have the key line.  the old man's wings are so natural that he couldn't understand why other men didn't have wings too.  The story tells us why others don't have wings--the people are not open to what they don't understand, there's no room for him in their imagination.  They learn nothing from his presence.  They will not grow wings and fly.
  • Of course, this might all be too serious a reading.  Marquez is having fun satirizing a whole range of beliefs and attitudes--including the simple moralizing of fairy tales.  witness the delightful story of the woman who was changed into a spider for not obeying her parents.  The story's moral, if indeed it has one,  is certainly the opposite of this easy and self-righteous kind of moralizing.  
  • I think the moral of the story is: study the logic of wings and when you've finished, you'll fly.