A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a story focused on a couple who discovers an elderly man who hosts a pair of wings on his back. The couple is unsure what to do with the strange elderly man, so they hold him in their chicken coop until they come to the idea that they’re capable of making a quick buck off the man. The couple exploits the elderly man’s strange appearance for financial gain; By presenting him to crowds who gawk at the man.
In fiction, wings typically represent power, freedom of motion, or beauty. Typically, angels in the Bible are depicted as intricate works of art who possess a pair of beautiful wings. In A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, Garcia Marquez plays off this trope by contradicting it. The old man in the story is given dirty and battered wings as opposed to the usual perfect and beautiful wings. Alas, the wings are still intriguing enough to attract a crowd eager to see such a sight. The wings are even examined by a trained doctor, who is bamboozled at the sight of the man’s wings as they are fit perfectly to the old man’s body as if they had naturally grown there, or even as if they had been designed to be placed there. The doctor begins to question why the rest of the world lacks wings, as clearly this elderly man was born years ago with these wings and has worn these wings since. If he could be granted with such an interesting, new, and function body part, why couldn’t anyone else? This thematic statement establishes the suggestion that the elderly man with wings is perhaps a supernatural being, as well as a natural being, as he bares every flaw and inconsistency of the natural human form, as well as every perfection as a supernatural being.
Carrying on with the representation of symbolism within Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, later on in the story, a female character is introduced who had been turned into a spider by her parents for disobeying them. This half spider half human combination is symbolism to display to the audience the fragile loyalty regarding one’s affections, particularly when regarding one’s own self-interest toward approaching their faith. This is shown within A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by the villagers receiving word of “the angel”. The moment the villagers discover the elderly man’s supernatural but natural appearance and abilities, they all herd directly over to Pelayo’s home eager to prove to themselves, as evidence, that their faith is justified as the truth. Not only are they motived to visit Pelayo’s home to prove their religion, but also to entertain themselves with his miracles.
However, unsurprisingly, once the villagers take note of the elderly man’s ability to only perform small miracles, his reputation with the begins to dwindle. The villages then begin to migrate to spectate the spider woman, who grants them with her magical storytelling ability. She graces them with an easily comprehensible, distressing story along with a clearly labeled moral within her story which directly contrasts with the angelic elderly man’s sheer existence and overall purpose. The spider woman, being no less strange than the elderly man, is easier for the common villagers to comprehend and understand. In fact, they can even pity the spider woman easily. Compared to the elderly man, no one seems to understand who or what he is, making his life even more sufferable. This all hints towards the villagers not truly being faith driven, but instead having them be led on by a result to believe in their faith. Both the spider woman and elderly winged man directly compete with one another to create a stark contract within the story which assists in developing the themes of the story as well as establishes the characters as representative symbols for the subtext of the story.
The themes within Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story are that of which pertain to a darker side of humanity. A side of exploitation and abuse, as opposed to compassion and kindness which we would hope would typically be associated with what we consider humanity. Pelayo and Elisenda initially decide to throw the elderly winged man on a raft in the river, supplied with only three days’ worth of necessities to keep him alive. Their other option as opposed to setting him adrift in the river was to simply end his life. However, once Pelayo and Elisenda discover that they can turn a profit from the old man, they begin to abuse and exploit the elderly winged man in the story, who is too weak to defend his position, and too different from everyone else to be accepted as potentially normal. They imprison him within a chicken coop outside of their home, where villagers are free to shout obscenities at him as well as pelt him with rocks. At one point they even managed to burn his side using a steer branding iron. All of these acts were performed upon the unfortunate elderly winged man not because of a wrong action he had done, but for the simple fact that he was different from everyone else within the village.
Among other themes, a large one which comes into play often within the story is that of prosperity. Pelayo and Elisenda begin the story as a couple struggling to scrape by, with their son being deathly ill. Conclusively, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a short story with large themes. The entire story; the symbolism, themes, ideas, subtext, and characters all hint toward a greater message which can be deconstructed by simply evaluating the story. Those ideas mostly being the dark and unethical side of humanity. The side which chooses to abuse and exploit as opposed to provide assistance and nurture. Garcia Marquez shows us a side of humanity which we often choose not to peer into, however sometimes should.