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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

Gabriel García Márquez

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

The Old Man

The old man, with his human body and unexpected wings, appears to be neither fully human nor fully surreal. On the one hand, the man seems human enough, surrounded as he is by filth, disease, infirmity, and squalor. He has a human reaction to the people who crowd around him and seek healing, remaining indifferent to their pleas and sometimes not even acknowledging their existence. When the doctor examines him, he is amazed that such an unhealthy man is still alive and is equally struck by how natural the old man’s wings seem to be. Such an unsurprised reaction essentially brings the “angel” down to earth, so any heavenly qualities the old man may have are completely obscured. However, the narrator seems to take the old man’s angelhood for granted, speaking of the “lunar dust” and “stellar parasites” on his wings, and the old man’s “consolation miracles,” such as causing sunflowers to sprout from a leper’s sores, seem genuinely supernatural. In the end, the old man’s true nature remains a mystery.

Pelayo

Although Pelayo is kinder to the old man than the other villagers, he is certainly no paragon of compassion and charity. He doesn’t club the old man as the neighbor woman suggests, but he does pen the supposed angel in his chicken coop and charge admission to the crowds of curious sightseers. Pelayo is primarily concerned with his family and sick child and is content to leave the theoretical and theological speculations to Father Gonzaga. His decision to shelter the old man and take some responsibility for him, however, suggests that he isn’t as cold or heartless as he might seem. By allowing the old man to stay, Pelayo also invites mystery, wonder, and magic into his life.

Elisenda

Elisenda is a perfect match for her husband, Pelayo, being equally ordinary and concerned with practical matters. If anything, Elisenda is the more practical of the two because she suggests charging admission to see the “angel.” Despite the many material advantages the old man brings, Elisenda’s attitude toward him is primarily one of annoyance and exasperation. Once the old man’s usefulness as a roadside attraction dwindles, Elisenda sees him only as a nuisance. Indeed, the old man becomes so troublesome to her that she even refers to her new home—purchased with proceeds from exhibiting the old man—as a “hell full of angels.” The old man becomes so ordinary in Elisenda’s eyes that it isn’t until he finally flies away that she seems to see him for the wonder he is. Elisenda watches him fly away with wistfulness, as if finally realizing that something extraordinary has left her life forever.

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