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A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
Transcript of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, on March 6, 1928. After studying journalism at the National University of Colombia in Bogota and at the University of Cartangena he worked as a screenwriter, journalist, and a publicist. Through it all he was always writing stories. He died the 17th of April, 2014 (aged 87)
The time and place of this story are undetermined. The characters' names suggest a Spanish speaking country, and a reference to airplanes indicates that we are somewhere in the twentieth century; but beyond these minor details, we seem to be in the "once-upon-a-time" world of fairy tales. The narrator tells of events in the past, using the phrase "in those times" in a manner common to myths and legends. These associations help prepare the reader for the story's "magical" elements by suggesting that this is not a factual history to be taken literally, but a tale of the imagination where the usual rules may be suspended. Such an "undetermined" setting is common in Garcia Marquez's fiction.
Our entire story takes place in Pelayo and Elisenda's courtyard. (In fact, it's almost like we're held captive.) But, even though we never go anywhere else, we can gather some clues about the larger setting.
We can be pretty sure it's in a Spanish-speaking country because of the characters' names, and we know it's on the coast, because of the rotten shellfish and the references to the sea. Since Gabriel Gárcia Márquez is Colombian and usually wrote about Colombia, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to suppose that the town is somewhere on the Colombian coast.
The town where the story takes place is a one-stoplight, two-horse town; the kind of town that you can't wait to get out of. The place is always flooding and filling with rotting shellfish, and people have nothing better to do than look at a mangy old angel all day. . We know this because, well, a captive might-be-angel is apparently the most exciting thing that the villagers have seen in months.
“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is one of the most well-known examples of the magical realist style, combining the homely details of Pelayo and Elisenda’s life with fantastic elements such as a flying man and a spider woman to create a tone of equal parts local-color story and fairy tale. From the beginning of the story, García Márquez’s style comes through in his unusual, almost fairy tale–like description of the relentless rain: “The world had been sad since Tuesday.” There is a mingling of the fantastic and ordinary in all the descriptions, including the swarms of crabs that invade Pelayo and Elisenda’s home and the muddy sand of the beach that in the rainy grayness looks “like powdered light.” It is in this strange, highly textured, dreamlike setting that the old winged man appears, a living myth, who is nevertheless covered in lice and dressed in rags.
It's hard to say when this story might have taken place. We know that people are still interested in seeing sideshow acts when carnivals come to town—but that doesn't really place it, because that goes on today. But the narrator does sometimes says "in those times," like when he says that "Elisenda bought some satin pumps with high heels and many dresses of iridescent silk, the kind worn on Sunday by the most desirable women in those times". Using that phrase gives the story an old-timey, once-upon-a-time feeling that we can't quite nail down without more information.
Finally, the characters seem to be living in an environment that's strongly ruled by both the Catholic Church and popular mythology. The wise neighbor woman has her own ideas about who angels are and what should be done with them, while Father Gonzaga represents the official, Catholic side of beliefs about angels.
(n.) lack of seriousness, lightheartedness
“Father Gonzaga held back the crowd’s frivolity with formulas of maidservant inspiration awaiting the arrival of final judgement on the nature of the captive…”
(n.) state of being old and in bad condition or poor health
“...which looked more like another misfortune of decrepitude.”
(n.) splendor or impressiveness; high rank
“...his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away and sense of grandeur he might have had.”
(adj.) showing the weaknesses of old age; loss of mental faculties
“...holding himself up in some way with the risky flapping of a senile vulture.”
(v.) to mourn a loss
“The owners of the house had no reason to lament.”
(adj.) generous forgiving of insult or inju
“Then they felt magnanimous and decided to put the angel on a raft with fresh water…”
(n.) teaching sacraments in Catholicism to children or adult converts
“Standing by the wire, he reviewed his catechism in an instant and asked them to open the door so that he could take a close look at that pitiful man…”
(adj.) worn out or ruined because of age or neglect
“...pitiful man who looked more like a huge decrepit then among the fascinated chicken…”
(adj.) antique or rare
“He only lifted his antiquarian eyes and murmured something…”
(n.) lack or respect; rudeness
Alien to the impertinences of the world, he only lifted his antiquarian eyes and murmured something…”
Religion used for money, people turn away once something more interesting comes along, do it for the wrong reasons, mistreatment of religion
The unknown is not as far away as we think it is
Corruption is easily attained: constantly check authorities
Story told in 3rd Person
Name Importance: The names of the characters are names of religious Catholic leaders to show a satire of how religion is become more of entertainment instead of for spiritual reasons the way it should be, and religion is being abused and put in the “chicken coop”
Setting: right on the beach, where crabs got into their house and created a terrible smell. The weather was related to the health of the child: when it was rainy, the child was sick (when the angel showed up), but it was sunny when the child recovered and the angel flew away.
“They found the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the angel, without the slightest reverence, tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal.” p. 1
“His only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience. Especially during the first days, when the hens pecked at him, searching for the stellar parasites that proliferated in his wings, and the cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing. The only time they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers, for he had been motionless for so many hours that they thought he was dead.”
“She kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.” p. 3
The short story,
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
tells the story of Pelayo and his wife Elisenda, who find an old man with wings in their courtyard after killing crabs, that had invaded their house during a 3 day rainstorm. Pelayo gets his wife, and they try to communicate with the old man but are not successfull. They eventually get their neighbor woman, who informs them that the old man is an angel. She tells them that it was on its way for the soul of their sick child.
They put the angel in the chicken coop, and during the middle of the night their child's fever breaks. They decide to let him go, but when they return to the courtyard at dawn the entire community has arrived to see the angel. Father Gonzaga soon arrives, declaring that the old man is a fake. He promises to get the real truth from the higher courts of the church. The news of the angel spreads like wildfire, and the courtyard soon resembles a marketplace. Elisenda then has the idea of charging a 5 cent admission fee for seeing the angel; they are soon rich. Rome takes it time deciding on whether the old man is an angel, and while waiting for their verdict, Father Gonzaga works desperately to restrain the crowd.
The crowd leaves on its own, however, when a carnival boasting a Spider-Girl arrives in town. Spectators are allowed to question her, and she tells them how she was turned into a tarantula one night for disobeying her parents. This appeals to the masses more than an old winged man who ignores the people around him. Thus, the curious crowds soon leave the angel for the spider, leaving Pelayo's courtyard deserted.
Pelayo and Elisenda build a mansion with all the money they have accumulated. They neglect the angel and prevent their child from getting to close to the chicken coop. He soon becomes a part of their life, and they no longer fear him. The child visits him often. After a while the chicken coop breaks, and they allow him to move around their house, although it causes Elisenda much distress. He gets increasingly frail and sickly, and they fear that he will die. He recovers, however, and one day Elisenda watches him fly away, to her great relief.
Text to text & text to world
Text To World
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
was published during "La Violencia" (the ten-year (1948–58) period of civil war in Colombia, between the Colombian Conservative Party and the Colombian Liberal Party). Scholar John Goodwin argues that the text of the story can be read as a commentary on the events in Colombia at the time: "The opinions of the villagers reveal an idealized view of religion as government; their treatment of the angel, however, betrays their reaction to rule by religious authorities."
Text To Text
The story Skellig is about a boy who finds an old, broken male angel in the corner of his garage and takes care of the angel until the angel is well enough to leave and be a burden no more. This relates to the short story because they are both about angels being found in strange places , being brought back to health, and becoming free.
1. How many days had it been raining for when the old man was found?
2. What did the neighbor women tell the couple the old man was?
a. a demon
b. a lost sailor
c. an angel
3. What did the neighbor tell the couple the old man had come to do?
a. bring good harvest to the crops that year
b. take the soul of their sick child
c. curse the village for its sins
4. What happened to the sick child the night the angel arrived?
a. the child grew more ill with each passing hour
b. the fever broke and the child was well
c. the child died
5. Where did Elisenda and Pelayo put the angel after they found him?
a.their garden shed
b. the cellar
c. the chicken coop
6. What did the family find in their courtyard the morning after finding the old man?
a. an angry mob
b. the neighbor women
c. an amazed crowd, who wanted to see the angel
7. What was Father Gonzaga's opinion on the angel?
a. the angle was a fake since he could not understand Latin
b. he was sent to save the village
c. he was an evil spirit
8. Why did the Spider-Girl turn into a spider?
a. she was born that way
b. she was a fake
c. she was punished for disobeying her parents
9. (opinion) Why did the people prefer to look at the Spider-Girl?
10. (opinion) What does Pelayo and Elisenda's use of the angel to earn money show us about corruption and religion?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is born. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014, from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gabriel-garcia-marquez-is-born
Magical Realism. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014, from http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/magical.htm
Kandell, J. (2014, April 17). Gabriel García Márquez, Conjurer of Literary Magic, Dies at 87. Retrieved November 12, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/18/books/gabriel-garcia-marquez-literary-pioneer-dies-at-87.html?_r=0
Your Move, Dickens. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014, from http://yourmovedickens.blogspot.com/2011/01/very-old-man-with-enormous-wings.html
Tone analysis, Figurative language, and POV...
"Richly bleak", that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?
The narrator's attitude toward the townspeople and their reception of the winged man combines beautiful descriptions with sad undertones. García Márquez uses rich adjectives and figurative language to describe really bleak conditions. This quote really sums it up:
"The world had been sad since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on March nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish. "
What we've got here is a really awful situation. The whole world has been sad for three days and everything is gray and rotten. But the narrator remembers how beautiful things could be, taking us back to March, when the beach glimmered beautifully. All through the story, the tone swings back and forth between bleak and rich, with the narrator constantly finding beauty in the hideous.
Point of View
Third Person (Limited Omniscient)
The narrator in this story is outside of the action, narrating from a distance. He can get inside the heads of some of the characters when he wants to, but he doesn't spend much time there. Take the very last sentence, for example:
"She kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea. "
Here, we get just a little taste of Elisenda's motivations and thoughts. But mostly our narrator makes us get by with outward descriptions of what people say and do. This point of view makes it that much harder to figure out whether or not the title character is an angel or just an old man with wings—and what he's doing here in the first place.
Because of this outside view, we're put in the position of the other characters in the story. What you see is what you get, and, since the old man doesn't speak the same language as them, there's no communication for us to overhear.
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Pelayo and Elisenda's town may be small, but it's not sleepy. Storm after storm seems to hit it.
The first storm is a real storm with flooding and thunder, but the next ones are figurative:
"In the midst of that shipwreck disorder that made the earth tremble, Pelayo and Elisenda were happy with fatigue, for in less than a week they had crammed their rooms with money and the line of pilgrims waiting their turn to enter still reached beyond the horizon. "
The sheer number of people that come to see the old man is so great that they're as destructive as the storm that brought him. And even the old man himself is compared to a storm:
"Although many thought that his reaction had been one not of rage but of pain, from then on they were careful not to annoy him, because the majority understood that his passivity was not that of a hero taking his ease but that of a cataclysm in repose."
A cataclysm is a majorly destructive event. Here, we get the sense that, although the old man seems calm, he's really just a superstorm waiting to unleash devastation on the town.
But he doesn't. So we're stuck with another contrast. The potential for this event to be life-changing (and not in a good way), and the reality that it actually turns out to be just some weird event that Elisenda forgets as soon as the man disappears into the horizon.
The subtitle of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is "A Tale for Children". Why do you think García Márquez directs his story to children? What might be the differences between an adult reader's take and a child's?
What religious message do you think this story is trying to convey? Is religion dead or discredited in the modern world, or does faith persist in unexpected or unconventional forms?
How would you characterize the community where García Márquez’s story is set? Are the townspeople shallow and greedy? Practical and simple?
What affect does the combination of magical and ordinary details have on the reader?