Symbolism in a Very Old Man With Enormous Wings Research Paper

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Marquez Literary Analysis

Fending Off Crabs and Angels:

Religious Symbolism in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children," a small Latin American community is initially mystified, briefly enthralled, and ultimately unimpressed by the sudden appearance of a decrepit winged man in their midst. The literal and straightforward treatment of such a supernatural phenomenon is characteristic of Marquez's work, and can make the interpretation of symbolism in his stories difficult. However, the religious symbolism of the winged man in this story is hard to miss, and reveals a subtle commentary about the simultaneously sublime and mundane role of spiritual faith in the common man.

Marquez is famous for the incorporation of "magical realism" in his fiction. Wendy Faris defines magical realism as the introduction by an author of an "irreducible element" of magic that defies the reader's attempts to reconcile contradictions in the text and "disturbs received ideas about time, space, and identity" (Faris 7). The sudden appearance of a winged man bedraggled in the mud, ancient and weak, unable to fly despite being equipped for it, introduces this "irreducible element" both to the characters in the story and to the reader.

The appearance of any winged human, no matter the circumstances, immediately brings to mind thoughts of an angel -- in the reader, at least. Strangely, this is not the first conclusion that is reached by the characters in the story. The first instinct of Pelayo and Elisenda, the characters that find the creature, is to "[skip] over the inconvenience of the wings and quite intelligently [conclude] that he was a lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by a storm" (Marquez 218). Though the reader immediately concludes that there is something either literally supernatural or literarily symbolic happening in the story, the text itself refuses at first to acknowledge anything but an ordinary, worldly explanation of the man's appearance. The effect for the reader is that the creature ceases to be the most mystifying part of the story; instead, Pelayo's and Elisenda's ability to overlook the creature's wings becomes the most inexplicable element in the reader's mind. One begins to wonder not only what the creature symbolizes, but also what the blindness of Pelayo and Elisenda symbolizes.

The symbolism of both unfolds as the story continues. The woman who knows "everything about life and death" gives voice to the reader's conclusion by identifying the creature as an angel, but we are almost immediately distanced from her by her advice to the citizens to "club him to death" (218). The citizens briefly acknowledge the mystery of the angel's appearance, but their reaction is not one of reverence but merely one of curiosity and even cruelty. When his allure ceases to draw an audience and therefore ceases to provide an income for Pelayo and Elisenda, they treat him as a natural nuisance on the same order as the crabs that invade their quarters. When they build their new house with the money that they made from his appearance, they hang "high netting so that the crabs wouldn't get in…and iron bars in the window so that angels wouldn't get in" (223).

The resistance of the text in complying with the reader's idea of the angel and the appropriate response to it highlights what ends up being the central symbolism of the story; the characters' utilitarian treatment of the supernatural symbolizes the utilitarian and conflicting role… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Symbolism in a Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.  (2010, November 7).  Retrieved January 20, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/symbolism-very-old-man-enormous-wings/9777

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"Symbolism in a Very Old Man With Enormous Wings."  Essaytown.com.  November 7, 2010.  Accessed January 20, 2020.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/symbolism-very-old-man-enormous-wings/9777.