It’s Day 12 of the #A2ZChallenge. This year, I invite you to read and discuss short stories with me. Each day, I bring you a ‘Read of the Day,’ so that we can indulge in the joy of reading. You can visit my site daily for a short story with analysis and participate in the discussion in the comments.
Read of the Day
Today, we will read A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
You can read the short story online here.
About the Author
Gabriel García Márquez, also known as Gabo and Gabito, was a Columbian short story writer, novelist, screenwriter, essayist, and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature (1982) for his fictional writings. He was one of those few writers who achieved both commercial success and critical acclaim. Gabo credits William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway as his greatest literary influences.
Magic realism is the hallmark of Latin American literature that seamlessly integrates the magic in their lowbrow folklore stories into the realism in highbrow literary fiction. It’s no wonder that we have so many Nobel Prize winners from that region – Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, and Gárcia Márquez.
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez is a straightforward story narrated with a detailed description in chronological order. It takes an anti-establishment stance with elements of magical realism and satire.
The author takes on primal human nature and religion and removes their garb of hypocrisy through his fantastical characters.
We have a male angel who’s the very old man with enormous wings who appears out of nowhere and lands up in the backyard of Pelayo and Elisenda, who have a sick baby in the house. At first, they are horrified at the sight of the old man, but on closer look, they find him familiar.
Their wise neighbour declares that he’s an angel because of the wings. Father Gonzaga, the local priest, cannot come to terms with the fact that an old man who looks like a ragpicker, covered with lice and dirty, stinky wings can be an angel. He writes to his higher authorities in the church for answers, and they are as clueless as him about the old man with wings, as they are about everything in life and after.
When the news spreads, people from near, far, and wide to see the old man with wings. Elisenda has a brainwave, after which she sets up a fence, and charges people to see the old man with wings. But what does the couple do? They alienate the old man and lock him up with the hens in the wire chicken coop. This is contrary to what The Holy Bible teaches, and the author shows the hypocrisy, greed, and selfish human nature in this story.
If the couple isolates the old man with wings who becomes the proverbial golden goose and ‘rags-to-riches’ story for them as they build a huge mansion, then the visitors make a mockery out of him. From throwing fruit peels to breakfast leftovers, to physically injuring him, they treat the man no less than a circus animal for their cruel entertainment until they move on to the next trend – the spider woman in this story.
Márquez makes us question our own belief systems and values. He makes us wonder what if an angel appeared out of nowhere, may or may not be in answer to our prayers. How would we treat the angel if s/he were unlike the ones described in the holy texts? How would we treat the angels if we looked like the poorest of the poor amongst us? He also takes a jab at the church for their utter cluelessness when they preach lofty sermons about the baby Jesus born in a manger or stable.
Our reaction would most likely be like Elisenda at the end of the story.
Elisenda let out a sigh of relief, for herself and for him, when she watched him pass over the last houses, holding himself up in some way with the risky flapping of a senile vulture. 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.
We’d probably be relieved that an unsightly angel was off our backs, even if it were our answered prayer, or it made us filthy rich.
Márquez drives home the message that there is beauty everywhere. We just need to put our heart into our eyes. He does this effectively with the use of beautiful language and mechanism of contrasts.
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.
He awoke with a start, ranting in his hermetic language and with tears in his eyes, and he flapped his wings a couple of times, which brought on a whirlwind of chicken dung and lunar dust and a gale of panic that did not seem to be of this world.
The juxtaposition of ‘powdered light’ with ‘stew of mud and rotten fish’ or ‘chicken dung’ with ‘lunar dust’ brings upon the realization that there is beauty even in filth. There is beauty everywhere if we care enough to look for it.
Even if the couple, the clergy, or the people suspect the old man to be an angel, they refuse to open their hearts and see the beauty in him. They look down upon him because he looks poor, humble, and senile. The angel is far from the cherubic winged angel or young, beauteous, and virile female and male angels popularized in mainstream culture. Of what use is then religion, or even humanity if we fail to see beauty everywhere?
I’ll conclude with this quote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez –
“Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.”
Have you read A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and what are your thoughts?
*I’m participating in the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge.