Symbolism in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and was originally published in 1995. This story is about a young couple who finds an old man with enormous wings washed up from the sea, and his wings covered in mud. They fear that he may be an angel sent to take their sick child away from them. Religion and cruelty are the main factors of this story. There are three main symbols in this story that showcases the main point such as; beauty and dirt, his wings, and the chicken coop were the old man is held.

First, the themes of beauty and dirt are symbolic in this story and represent beauty in dark places. The first sentence says, “the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house” (p.164) This gives me the impression that the house smells of dead crabs and dirty sea water. We don’t know the surroundings of where they live, but we understand that they live right by the beach from the text. The story shows light and dirt side by side on page 164 when it states, “the sands of the beach, which on March nights glimmered like powered light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish.” This shows that even something as beautiful as sand can become dirty and ugly rather fast. This symbol of beauty versus dirt relates to religion by showing that even when you are in a dark place there will be light in that darkness that will lead you out (Jesus).

Next, I think that the old man’s wings represent cruelty to a human. The narrator states that, “His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud,” this old man got destroyed through the storm when he was coming to earth to heal this sick child. When he got there the Pelayo and Elsienda put him into an old chicken coop for awhile, they didn’t even try to help him or ask if he was okay. He constantly got food and rocks thrown at him along with getting his skin burned from a branding rod. This is so cruel that they put him through all of these horrible things, this also affected his wings for worse. They began to really look over him and not pay attention to him. He became very malnourished and not taken care of. For example, on page 166 the author writes, “an unbearable smell of outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds…”, this shows how cruel all the people were to this poor angel. “Even the cripples pulled out his feathers to touch their defective parts with”, that is just cruel and inhumane.

Lastly, the old chicken coop has an abundance of symbolism to religion. When the family out onto their courtyard they see the whole town in front of their chicken coop messing with the angel. The towns people threw stones, beat, and branded a holy symbol in an attempt to get a reaction out of him. The angel remained impassive in his corner like stone and showed them no reactions despite the abuse. The town’s priest visited the angel to check if he was truly what he appeared to be, but because he showed no reaction to Latin, the supposed language of ogd, the priest dismissed him as a true angel and dubbed him as an imposter. Another factor that made people unwilling to believe that he was truly an angel was how human he appeared to be.

If it wasn’t for the sickly wings on his back, people might have he was a human with a single glance. He did not appear to have any power, as he didn’t seem to be able to escape the prison that he was being held in by mortals, the book states that, “His only supernatural power was patience.” With this being said it leads me to this: as a believer in Christ everyday you get tempted everyday, and your faith gets messed with. People try to test you, just to see your true faith. The old man is an angel, he gets picked on, food and stones throw at him, people selling him as a circus act just because he’s different. The family ended up being nicer to the angel because they felt bad for him because they all knew he wouldn’t be alive much longer with them. “He could scarcely eat and his antiquarian eyes had also become so foggy he started bumping into post” (170). The lady kept watching him try to regain his strength to try to fly and the narrator stated, “she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea” (170). This chicken coop was where the angel got beat and abused but also where the angel started to become strong again. The chicken coop symbolizes society’s need to trap and hide things that are different, like the angel he was different than everyone else, so they hid him there.

In conclusion, “A very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a story about an angel sent down from heaven who gets tested everyday with his faith. The author, Gabriel Marquez, uses symbols all throughout the story, such as beauty and dirt, the old mans wings, and the chicken coop. The beauty and dirt represent the beauty in all the darkness the angel goes through. The little old mans wings get beaten and ripped all out and this shows the cruelness of people. Lastly, the chicken coop symbolizes societies need to trap and hide things that are different, just like they did to this poor old man. The angel truly shows religion by the way he never gave up for not one thing and never let people get the best of him.

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Symbolism in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. (2021, May 07). Retrieved August 5, 2022 , from

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