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Glenda Brazier

Alienation and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A

Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”


By: Glenda Brazier

ENGL 125

Fall 2016
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In “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" (Gabriel García Marquez, 1955) the

main character, the fallen decrepit angel, suffers from a sense of alienation from the

people who see him literally as something “other” that they can't comprehend. His

alienation is significant to the plot because it is his “alien” quality that provokes the

actions and sentiments of the townspeople and drives the plot of the story. I will retrace

the plot to explore how the community’s response to the angel’s otherness propels the

story and the actions of almost every character.

The story begins on dreary day in a coastal town where Pelayo, the first character

we meet, is throwing crabs that have wandered in to his house back out to sea. On his

way back home he comes upon an old wearied man tattered angel wings lying in the

mud. Initially, Pelayo is a bit frightened of the man and sees him more as a creature than

something human. The angel’s appearance as something other provokes the first

dramatic action in the story when the fear it induces compels Pelayo to run and get his

wife Elisanda to help him process and deal with the situation. After retrieving Elisanda,

the couple spend time looking upon the “alien” angel, normalizing it to their experience

while still not fully comprehending exactly what it is. One would think that with the

many years of Abrahamic mythos in our western history that people regardless of their

faith would recognize the fabled being. This is particularly strange given that the story

takes place in a seemingly Latin American country where Christianity is the dominant

religion. This moment makes one start to question the history in the world of the story

and wonder what particular mythology pervades the thinking of the people of Pelayo’s

village, or could it be that they are like people of our contemporary society in that they
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are so jaded by religion that they refuse to take any of its supernatural manifestations

seriously. Another curious observation that can be made about the Pelayo and Elisanda is

in how that totally skip over the presence of the angel’s wings. They pretend not to see

these blaring identifying appendages on the back of the creature. They even go so far as

to just say that he is nothing other than a lost sailor shipwrecked in their village by the

storm.

Eventually, they want to know more about the angel and go to see a neighbor

woman who is they say “knew everything about life and death.”(Marquez 1955). The

woman reveals to them that he is in fact an angel, but they don’t seem to understand

exactly what that means. They seem ignorant of angels and their place in the Abrahamic

mythos. The woman then tells them that the angel was probably coming to take away

their sick child, angels were part of a “spiritual conspiracy,” and that they should club

him to death. Pelayo and Elisanda listen to the woman, but they don’t take her advice to

kill him. They still seem a bit unsure about what this alien entity is and why he is there.

This is a further nod in this story of magical realism where the characters fail to see any

real magic in their experience. A “divine” creature is right in their midst but they for

some reason can’t see. The couple eventually decide to put the angel, who they still

decide to see as a sailor, back out to see on a raft to fend for himself. The couple’s plan

to rid themselves of the angel is stopped when they wake up the next morning to see the

people of their village in front of the chicken coop playing and having fun with the angel.

The people, like Pelayo and Elisanda, are intrigued by the angel, but not reverent of it.

They are provoked into action by the angel’s presence, but also ignorant of the truth of

the creature they taunt. They see the angel as less than human than Pelayo and Elisanda
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This is evidenced by their decision to treat it as a side show attraction. This pushes the

angel further into an isolate experience, due to its otherness, where it is then exploited by

the people around it.

Father Gonzaga, the village priest, is provoked by the angel’s appearance to go

and inspect it for himself. He goes to the angel and attempts to speak to him in Latin,

which he says is the “language of god.” Gonzaga is suspicious that the creature is indeed

an angelic because it is unable to understand his Latin. Gonzaga suspects that the angel

could indeed be an emissary of Satan, even though the angel’s appearance in the town

triggers mostly positive(although somewhat kooky) manifestations to the citizens who

come into contact with him. Even when Gonzaga sends away for information from

church higher-ups in Rome he is not given any clear indication that the angel in front of

him is indeed on of the celestial beings from the religion the he himself professes. At this

point the angel is seen as alien to not only the people in the town and the circus, but also

to others in the world at large. The angel is left isolated in a dehumanized experience and

subjected to the inhumane treatment.

As the angel descends further into psychological isolation, even though he is

physically surrounded, the townspeople continued to reap reward and benefit from his

presence. For example, a blind man who grows back some missing teeth after

encountering the angel; Father Gonzaga being cured of his insomnia; and Elisanda and

Pelayo making tons of money from charging admission to their side show. As the story

begins to reach its end Pelayo and Elisanda begin to feel so inconvenienced by the angel

being at their home that they can’t help but to feel a sense of escape and release when the

creature finally regains its strength and flies away. This topic of alienation in the works
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of Gabriel Garcia Marquez seems to be fairly well known.

In “Gabriel Garcia Marquez: a critical companion” the author Pelayo Ruben

describes the plot of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” as “representing the order

in which events are told, the reader must also pay close attention to causality.” It seems

here that he is attempting to correlate the angel’s arrival and presence in the town as the

root cause for what is to come in the short story. In Gene Bell-Villada’s “Gabriel Garcia

Marquez:the man and his work” Bell Villada described the plot as “magic in the arrival

of a winged humanoid, the apparent angel who seems to have crash landed in the

courtyard of Pelayo and Elisanda, a modest rural couple living in a coastal village.” He

goes on to interpret the text as a story where everything the reader expects is up for

question even the dignity of the divine, which is presented as a tattered, impoverished,

vermin infested creature who virtually becomes a side show attraction in a world where

people can't even see it for what it is. The Bell-Villada states that Marquez “uses humor

with his fictive villagers” to cast a kind of doubt on the validity of every aspect of the

situation while at the same time making an observation about the state of the divine in

society. This provokes the question: Is the divine so alienated in society today that we

couldn’t see it even if it were to manifest right in front of our faces? It is hard to say no

to this question as atheism grows and the religious make-up of the world begins to

change.

The emergence of a materialist scientific world view in our present day and age

has led to the divine being alienated from our experience. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

attempts to comment on this in his short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

when an angel falls to Earth and the people who find him treat him with irreverence and
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disgust before totally exploiting him for one reason or another. The angel is the divine

catalyst in the story that moves everything and everyone along. Even though the people

can’t acknowledge that they are acting out due to divine impetus, they are moved by what

would seem to them an invisible divinity although if they could only look they could see

the spiritual cause for everything that takes place in their story.
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References:

A. Primary Text:
1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, (1955). “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”(Gregory

Rabassa Translation), Retrieved from:

https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinichol/CreativeWriting/323/MarquezManwithWing

s.htm

B. Secondary Texts:

1. Ruben, P. (1954). “Gabriel García Márquez [electronic resource] : a critical

companion” Retrieved from: http://site.ebrary.com.proxy-

library.ashford.edu/lib/ashford/reader.action?docID=10005653#

2. Bell-Villada, G., (2010). “Gabriel Garcia Marquez: the man and his work.” Retrieved

from:

http://site.ebrary.com.proxylibrary.ashford.edu/lib/ashford/detail.action?docID=1035149