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Gabriel Garcia Marquez has a style of writing that depicts events taking place around him in a surreal way. In the short story “A Very Old man with Enormous Wings,” Garcia introduces a man with feathered wings that may be considered an angel by characters in the story. Garcia have seen his homeland, Colombia, put through violent uprisings and political struggles and this makes him no stranger to tactics, ploys and violence that is usually associated with political strife, therefore he uses this background as plots in some of his stories. In this story, human behavior is analyzed by character’s violent tendencies as well as demonstration of how authority can damage freedom of expression. It appears that his views are political, with characters displaying inhumane behavior and very strong magical realism in his literary element, especially in the story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”
In this story, a villager by the name of Pelayo finds an old man with large wings on his property after he went to dispose of some crabs that had overran his yard. He and his wife involve other village members in their quest to find out who or what this old man really is. After it was established that the old man was an angel by the village, the village priest tried to use various tactics at his disposal to authenticate this while curious people from all around came to see the winged old man. Pelayo and his wife Elisenda became rich after charging people to see the winged old man who they kept in a chicken coop. People expected miracles of which the old man seems to perform some, though indirectly. Eventually the curiosity wanes when a carnival comes to the village. In this carnival was a woman who was turned into a large spider because she went to a dance against her parent’s wishes. Years passed before the old man with wings, who lived with Pelayo and his wife in their new house, gained enough strength and altitude to just simply fly off in the distance one day.
In many literary circles, Garcia’s knack for structure in the life of the characters in his stories helps readers to understand the true essence of ‘magical realism.’ As a child growing up in Aracataca, Colombia, his grandmother and aunts told him many stories of local myths that seemed to take the young Garcia to different levels of human endeavors. His grandfather also told him stories of the Colombian Civil War which Garcia grew to love, especially when it appears the young Garcia seemed to believe fantasy elements and reality can intertwine. In the very title of the story, “An Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” (319) readers are introduced and quite intrigued as to what this could possibly be. This is where Garcia means to introduce an entity that as a man, readers can connect with, but the addition of ‘Enormous Wings,’ seems to indicate many aspects of what this man is, namely an angel. Angels in some religions are known to have wings, the wings are usually proportionate to their bodies – here Garcia uses “Enormous” which may indicate this ‘angel’ has great importance, or may have a profound effect on characters in the story. This story is set in a village and since Garcia grew up in a village, most of the story’s setting is patterned after village life (no hustling and bustling of big city life) which contributes to readers’ connection with the central characters, the old man, Pelayo and Elisa. This connection with the characters and the setting is first established here:
He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face
down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, im-
peded by his enormous wings. (320)
Garcia brings readers into a world that as the story unfolds; the ‘fantasy element’ becomes realistic when the story’s pictures are reinforced with logical actions and emotions. A man lying face down in mud is not one of angelic grace, but usually signifies a derelict or someone who may me hurt, yet the old man has wings! In Genevieve Slomski’s article analysis, she indicates: “In the final analysis, the text offers no rational explanation for the enigmatic man.” Garcia did not specify the old man was an actual angel, but by using characters such as the neighbor who Pelayo and his wife first called to find out what the old man was all about: ‘”He’s an angel,” she told them.’ (320), readers are led to believe the protagonist is an angel.
Garcia became influenced by literary greats like William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway, but by the time he wrote the story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” in 1968, he was already an established writer in the Latin American communities of the world. His style of writing led to him being known in literary circles as one of the founders of the ‘Magical Realism.’ The way he mixes imagination and reality in this particular story suggests a man whose mind at least knows no human boundaries. Most of his literary contributions to the world are not like this, ironically. His works mostly included political issues, social commentaries, unraveling nasty political plots and tactics and as mentioned before inhumane behavior society sometimes show towards each other that he has lived through. This may lead some readers to wonder why he changed to the magical realism that is portrayed in this particular story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” According to an essay in Magill’s Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition that was written by Jean C. Fulton on Garcia’s biography, Garcia was quoted as saying “Style is determined by subject, by the mood of the times.” Does this emphasize that he may go in a different direction with each story he writes, because his mood may swing? This statement certainly does indicate that, and based on other stories by Garcia that may not encompass magical realism, e.g. political undertones, raw and grittiness, as portrayed in stories like “This Town of Shit,” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” it can be assessed that Garcia’s mind was in a surreal world at the time he wrote “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Garcia was well known to be intrigued with William Faulkner’s style of creating his childhood into mythical past. This may have led to Garcia writing this particular story, but the two styles do not share a lot in common. Garcia also has a knack for shedding light on people who seemed to have more misfortunes than success in their existence:
The most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health: a poor woman
who since childbirth had been counting her heartbeats and had ran out of num-
Could this be the result of some of the atrocities he saw the banana workers experienced when he was very young? While it may be hard to answer, readers can speculate that Garcia style of writing in relation to “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” may ” cause readers to think in terms of symbolic narrative, parable, and allegory,” according to Ronald E. McFarland in his work in Studies in Short Fiction; Fall 92, Vol. 29, p 551. It would appear that Garcia had more in common with characters like these than people of higher status. The neighbor woman that was one of the first after Pelayo and Elisandro found the old man with wings momentarily took attention away from the protagonist “Against the judgment of the wise neighbor woman, for whom angels in those times were fugitive survivors of a celestial conspiracyâ€¦” (320-21) here is a character that would that had no ‘official’ post (other than being a neighbor) but advises the couple to do harm to the old man. Why? The passage indicates she believes he may be a Fallen Angel and they probably deserve no human pity. Father Gonzaga, the village priest, quite possibly shared the same sentiments as the neighbor woman for the old man. This is the introduction by Garcia of a person of status, one who represented religion, but doubted the belief of the people that the old man was an angel. The old man was being treated inhumanely, yet the priest did nothing much to alleviate his situation “He was lying in a corner drying his open wings in the sunlight among the fruit peels and breakfast leftovers that the early risers had thrown him.” (321) Garcia’s commonality here was when he was in college in his younger years, he wandered the streets of Bogota hanging with some social misfits, even though they belonged to some sort of literary circle. Garcia is attempting to bring to light in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” that individuals who are different are not treated the same as one would treat a neighbor, an associate or another fellow human being from the same environment. The characters that were considered different like the old man- the acrobat with wings that looked more like a sidereal bat, the carnival woman that had the form of a spider, etc., were meant quite possibly by Garcia to divert readers inquisitiveness as to what the old man really was and his real purpose.
Reading the story for the first time may bring incomprehensiveness to readers because of the characters and the roles they seem to play in the theme of the story. Is Garcia trying to send a message to readers with this fable? It was already established that magical realism in the mid 60’s was becoming a norm in literary circles, so Garcia’s intent when he wrote and had the story published was to alert readers to pay close attention to rules and regulations when they are applied to occurrences that may seem unnatural, despite his reasoning that his stories reflect the moods he was in when he was writing them.
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