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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ”A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a fairy tale in which realistic, earthy diction is used to relate a mystical event. The author’s flair for describing the fantastic in a casual, understated way creates an atmosphere of credibility in which anything is possible and believable. Using a South American village for setting and an assortment of descriptive images for flavor, Marquez shows how superstitious ignorance and religious dogma can prevent the realization of true spirituality.

The use of literal yet imaginative descriptions is not only effective in supplying a realistic touch to a magical story, but also enhances the theme by establishing a reliance on concrete meanings. In a childlike, simple manner, Marquez describes the opening scene in terms one of his characters might use when he says, “The world had been sad since Tuesday ” (348), and the sands of the muddy beach had “become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish” (348). The author creates vivid images by making comparisons to things that are common, everyday sights in the rustic village: “a dog who had no illusions” (352), “a huge decrepit hen among the fascinated chickens” (134), “huge buzzard wings, dirty and half plucked (348). These graphic, literal descriptions offer more to the story than simply defining a setting–they define the mentality of the characters. By reflecting the perceptions of the villagers through this realistic imagery, Marquez exposes the simplicity and baseness, which makes them susceptible to an unyielding trust in traditional beliefs and rigid religious doctrine.

The hypocrisy of the church is expressed through the character of the village priest, Father Gonzaga, who assumes the role of authority in dealing with the angel. His pompous attitude and superficiality are exposed when after examining the old soul, he assumes that he found “nothing about him measured up to the pious dignity of angels” (349). Showing no sign of compassion or good will, Father Gonzaga, a professed servant of God, warns his parishioners against being “ingenious” (349) in their appraisal of the feeble angel and, thus, discourages them from considering miraculous possibilities and exercising their faith.

When the highest levels of the church are consulted, instead of offering spiritual guidance and insight, the sanctimonious religious leaders focus on the absurd by questioning whether “the angel had a navel, if his dialect had any connection w/ Aramaic, how may times he could fit on the he head of a pin, or whether he wasn’t just a Norwegian with wings” (350-51). Throughout the hierarchy of the church, from the priest to the bishop to the Pope in Rome, the angel is viewed as a threat and a problem–no one speaks of awe, reverence and love, or even suggests acting with simple kindness toward the mysterious man with wings.

Throughout his miserable ordeal in Pelayo and Elisenda’s village, the angel endures humiliation, neglect, and cruelty. His shabby appearance and failing health are so much more obvious than any angel qualities he might be hiding, that he is treated like an ineffectual enigma rather than the divine creature he is. To Elisenda, the bumbling old man with tattered wings is an annoyance and an irritation. When his doddering presence becomes too much for her, she shouts “it was awful living in that hell full of angels” (352). Elisenda, like her husband and their neighbors, can’t see beyond the obvious. Because their isolated culture breeds ignorance among them and their religion teaches them to be fearful and suspicious, the villagers are unable to by touched by the miracle of having one of God’s own among them–just as, Marquez suggests–would we all who are equally affected by isolation and ignorance in our own lives.

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