The Apprehension of the Unfamiliar in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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People have always been scared of the unknown and unfamiliar. In his famous short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Gabriel Garcia Marquez demonstrates how people are, on one hand, drawn to the irregular and abnormal and, on the other hand, repulsed and alert in its presence. The writes creates and applies a literary style known as magic realism in this story in order to emphasize the attitude people normally manifest in front of something they have never dealt with before as well as their primal aspiration to take a personal advantage of other beings without giving anything back in return.

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The story opens as Pelayo, a peasant living close to the sea, finds a groaning and sick old man with enormous wings in his flooded courtyard. The fact that the creature has wings makes Pelayo frightened by that nightmare and instead of helping the man who is in quite a pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather that took away any sense of grandeur he might have had the peasant locks the man up with the hens in the wire chicken coop. Moreover, when the neighbor, assumedly experienced in life and death matters, tells Pelayo and Elisenda that the creature is most certainly an angel, they even consider beating the man up to death, but eventually they do not have the heart to do it. Finally, Elisenda and Pelayo want to put the man on a raft with little food to last him no longer than several days. The couple demonstrates a primal instinct to get rid of the object that does not fit in the system of their long-held assumptions about the world they live in. Obviously, the fact that the old man has wings which distinguish him from other human beings allows the couple to treat him as they would treat a sick animal.

What strikes the reader most in this story is how realistically Marquez deals with the unreal. For instance, when describing the wings, the seemingly heavenly attribute, Marquez depicts them with the most sober and dispassionate attitude: the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds. In addition to that, the assumedly inhuman creature possesses a lot of characteristics that seem too much human to the reader: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels.

Marquez makes it indisputable that the only thing that helps Elisenda and Pelayo tolerate the strange man in their household is the desire to make some profit with his help. Despite the fact that the miserable creature does not look and smell like something divine, palpable miracles begin to happen in the life of the family as soon as they shelter the messenger from the storm-stricken skies. Their deadly-sick new-born baby gets better the same night the angel falls down in their courtyard and a short time later the poor family starts to make considerable amounts of money enabling them to improve their living conditions and start up a rabbit warren making even more money for the family. However, the family seems to fail to recognize all of these miracles as the old mans merit. Elisenda and Pelayo persist in letting the crowd treat the indifferent creature with outrageous cruelty: to throw stones at it, pull out his feathers and even burn it with an iron. No one in the village feels any compassion for the man: all everybody wants is to benefit with his help: the most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health, while the clergymen are mainly occupied with attempts to identify, explain and study the unbelievable man.

Another idea that the reader gets with the help of this short story is the tendency that most people normally exhibit to see things according to some pre-established categorization instead of experiencing them as they are. In other words, instead of trying to accept the unusual man and be kind to him, everybody in the story measures the man according to a set of criteria that the man is totally unable to match. For instance, it looks like he cannot be treated as a human being because they normally do not have wings; he also does not satisfy the requirements usually set for angels because he is neither white nor handsome. The villagers think they know how angels should look like and behave. Similarly, they think they know what a carnival attraction should be like and they identify the woman who has turned into a spider as a really entertaining one compared to the sad and passive old man with wings. Marquez short story implies that not everything in this universe can be categorized into an already existing class and sometimes we can meet things that probably have never been dealt with. Therefore, one should always keep an open mind about everything around and try to get rid of stereotypes.

To conclude, Marquez short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings provokes a range of important ideas such as, for instance, the hostility that people normally demonstrate in front of things that seem foreign or unusual. Being unable to categorize the strange man with wings into one of the existing classes, the couple that finds the man, does not even attempt to treat him in a dignified way. The peasants in the poor village like the majority of other people in the world considerably lack mental flexibility to stop trying to impose pre-established characteristics to the objects around them. The desire to exploit the others is also shown as one of the dominant ones in an average persons psychology. Marquez alerts the reader and renders a message about the necessity to be more open-minded and thoughtful to the people that surround us.


Marquez, G. G. (1972). A very old man with enormous wings. Retrieved from

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