“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

 – Art by James Christensen

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” opens with the gloomy presence of ongoing rainfall and the unnerving imagery of “many crabs” that have to be removed from the inside of Pelayo’s home. With a drenched courtyard and Pelayo’s back-and-forth trips to the sea for crab removal, the soggy, creature-handling images trigger instant feelings of discomfort that are accompanied by the mortifying thoughts of a baby immersed in the stench of these crabs. As the imagery changes to the sights of the beach and the gray-ash sky, where the light is weak at noon, the entirety of this edgy and forlorn atmosphere precedes the scene of the old man with wings who is found “lying face down in the mud.”

A progression of setting extends between the chicken coop of which the old man becomes a prisoner — the one that becomes the place of his exhibition — and the sight of the same coop after the sun and rain have caused its collapse. The old man experiencing this wintry passing of time until the coop simply deteriorated suggests that the people who kept him there find the old man pathetic, yet evokes emotions of sympathy for those who interpret the story from a distance.

When the story signals the end of winter arriving at the beginning of December, a worldly, geographical sensation arises. In addition, though the spring season is generally meant to symbolize newness, the horizon on the sea renders the old man flying away nothing more than some imaginary dot fading from view. The scene is depressing because this newness of setting and time sought to breath happiness and life into the old man, yet his “clumsy” actions and appearance of “decrepitude” works against the feeling of vitality that the newness of the season is intended to bring.

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” (1968) is a short story written by Gabriel García Márquez. The story is only a few pages long and was originally written in Spanish. With the ocean side feeling combined with the presence of a human with wings, a curious feeling of realism is mixed with fantasy to present a strange tale that offers a moral that one has to struggle to perceive. The old man is pitiable to the extent that not even the Pope is interested in whether or not he is a real angel, but that his arrival comes from the stormy skies, the drama here ignites a sense of intrigue. Realism again is fended off when the old man is joined by a character rival, a woman who’s been transformed into a spider, though she gets to keep her face. Keeping the realism grounded, the presentation of these fantastical creatures emerges within the confines of a Latin community of sightseers who parade the creatures as exhibitions for money. What the story becomes is a view into the world of curious people who don’t want to get involved with any excess amount of philanthropic ideas because their motives are driven by their own needs for self-preservation. The creatures move about in the story freely, so long as they do not disrupt the balance of daily life, yet ironically enough, the creatures provide an escape from the mundane by appearing with their odd features and preternatural characteristics.