The story of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez features the events surrounding Pelayo and Elisenda, a married couple, who gained wealth from the presence of an unusual visitor. The story begins by featuring the poverty stricken couple, who have to kill crabs that have entered into their house after heavy rains, indicating the poor state of their house. Furthermore, the couple has a sick child, and they attribute the fever to the stench coming from the dead crabs, which leads Pelayo to throwing the dead crabs to the sea. Upon his return from the sea, he comes across a very old man with enormous wings lying on the mud in his courtyard. The winged old man is considered to be an angel who had come for the couple’s child, and the couple’s neighbour suggests that the angel should be killed. However, the couple considers keeping the angel when their child finally gets well, and more people start coming to their home to see the angel, a situation that the couple sees as an opportunity to earn an income. The story addresses the vulnerable nature of human beings either as individuals or groups, which is brought out through such themes as cruelty and compassion, the supernatural, old age, and suffering.
The story examines the manner in which humans perceive individuals who are weak, different, and independent, which brings out the theme of cruelty and compassion. The element of cruelty appears throughout the story, both from an individual and a group perspective. For instance, the couple’s neighbour, a woman who is believed to know everything, suggests that they should kill the angel since he had come to take away their child, ‘He’s an angel, she told them. He must have been coming for the child’ (Márquez 265). The couple agrees with the woman’s idea, but they lack the strength to kill the angel. However, after learning that their child has recovered from his illness, the couple considers putting the angel on a raft and giving him provisions for three days and leave him to fate, which they consider to be a more humane way of doing away with the angel compared to killing him with a club.
The idea of putting the old man on a raft and leaving him to fate on the high seas is equally cruel given the old man’s condition, since the old man would easily die if he was left to the harsh conditions of the sea, which makes the idea equal to killing the angel with a club. On the other hand, the couple’s idea of making money from the people who came to see the angel is cruel, since it demonstrates an act of selfishness whereby the couple only considered the gains that they could get from the presence of the angel and not his wellbeing, ‘The owners of the house had no reason to lament. With the money they saved they built a two-story mansion with balconies and gardens and high netting so that crabs wouldn’t get in during the winter’ (Márquez 267). Furthermore, the couple lacked compassion for the angel, which is indicated by keeping the angel together with the hens, a situation that made the old man’s situation more challenging given his poor health condition.
Conversely, the story illustrates several acts of compassion, which forms part of the human nature. For instance, when the chicken coop collapses, the couple allows the angel to stay in their house rather than living outside in the cold, which is an act of compassion. On the other hand, the angel chooses to stay with the couple and help them create wealth through the fee that they charged people who came to see the angel so that they could end the poverty that was affecting them, despite the fact that he faced great mistreatment from the couple and the people who came to see him, including being burnt with a branding iron. The old man demonstrates extreme patience in helping the couple to overcome poverty, whereby Márquez (40) states that, ‘Pelayo and Elisenda have made enough money charging admission so that they can build a new home. The man (angel) who made it all possible, however, is completely disregarded’ to indicate the angel’s patience.
The theme of cruelty and compassion helps in bringing out the vulnerable nature of human beings, whereby the weak and different become susceptible to harm as they lack the strength to fight back. For instance, as the angel rests in the chicken coop, people who come to see him hurt him with stones and a hot branding iron as they seek to get him to stand so that they can see him better, given that he is different and people assume that he does not have similar feelings and emotions to those of ordinary human beings, ‘they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers’ (Márquez 268). However, the old man only gets angry but does nothing to the people hurting him for lack of strength. On the other hand, the couple becomes vulnerable to living with a foreign creature following their poor status that made them see the presence of the angel as a business opportunity. Although the couple did not understand the threat that the angel posed to them, they considered preserving his life so that they could earn the income that later made them wealthy.
Moreover, the theme of the supernatural, which is emerges throughout the story plays a crucial role in bringing out the vulnerable nature of human beings. The story depicts human beings as vulnerable to believing in the supernatural and new events. The strong belief that humans have in the supernatural is demonstrated whereby many curious people travelled from afar to come and see the angel, with some believing that the angel could heal them from their terminal diseases. For instance, the woman who had a heart problem, a sleepwalker, the man who suffered from insomnia, and other people with less serious illnesses came with the aim of getting healed (Chasqui 39) The vulnerable nature of human beings to new events is demonstrated through John Moore, who instead of doing his work, taking photographs of creative works, he concentrated on reading a book since it was new and interesting, ‘John was halfway through , the old man with enormous wings, when they found him lying on his work’ (“Back Matter”, 1974).
For instance, after visiting the angel, they discover that the angel does not possess the power that they expected to allow him to perform healing miracles. Rather, they discovered that the angel possessed many human elements including the fact he could feel pain and eat regular food, the characteristics that were least expected from an angel. The angel is similar to the prodigious creature indicated in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude whereby the creature, despite being considered supernatural, possesses a human burden that makes it engaged in the problems of the daily life. The creature suffered from the ailments of old age, similar to the angel, as indicated by Castillo, ‘In spite of his immense wisdom and mysterious breath, he had a human burden, an earthly condition that kept him involved in the small problems of daily life’ (77).
The two accounts bring about the question of whether the human belief in the supernatural is valid, given that no one is sure of its existence. However, human beings remain vulnerable to the belief of the supernatural due to the unresolved suffering they encounter in their daily lives, whereby the belief gives them hope despite the fact that it rarely resolves their problems and they are left to find solutions to their problems on their own. Additionally, the aspect of the supernatural, which is brought out by the presence of wings in the old man resonates with Kutzinski’s examination of the logic of wings in African-American and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literature.
The statement, ‘the old man raised his hands; and they all leaped up into the air with a great shout; and in a moment were gone, flying’ (Kutzinski 137) demonstrates an element of freedom, when human beings discover that they can resolve their problems without consulting any supernatural power. The scene of the Africans flying and achieving happiness is similar to the scene where the angel leaves Pelayo and Elisenda’s home, and they feel relieved by the fact that they would not have to always interact with the supernatural creature in their daily lives.
In conclusion, the story The Old Man with Enormous Wings emphasizes the vulnerable nature of human beings, whereby human beings will rely on anything that gives them hope or promises to end their suffering. Therefore, human beings resort to the supernatural powers whenever they fail to find solutions in their immediate environment, despite the fact that they do not truly understand how the supernatural power works. In addition, human beings are likely to choose cruelty over compassion to meet their needs, which makes them vulnerable to evil doing. Suffering and weakness in old age, which are common problems in the human life, are some of the factors that make human beings vulnerable to cruelty and further suffering.
Castillo, Rafael C. “Recommended: Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” The English Journal, vol. 73 no. 6, 1984, pp. 77-78.
“Chasqui.” Chasqui, vol. 1, no. 2, 1972, pp. 39–40. www.jstor.org/stable/20778090
Kutzinski, Vera M. “The Logic of Wings: Gabriel García Márquez and Afro-American Literature.” Latin American Literary Review, vol. 13, no. 25, 1985, pp. 133-146.
Márquez, Gabriel García. Leaf Storm and Other Stories. Harper and Row, 1972.
“Back Matter.” The English Journal, vol. 63, no. 6, 1974. www.jstor.org/stable/813448.