Wings represent power, speed, and limitless freedom of motion. In the Christian tradition, angels are often represented as beautiful winged figures, and García Márquez plays off of this cultural symbolism because, ironically, the wings of the “angel” in the story convey only a sense of age and disease. Although the old man’s wings may be dirty, bedraggled, and bare, they are still magical enough to attract crowds of pilgrims and sightseers. When the village doctor examines the old man, he notices how naturally the wings fit in with the rest of his body. In fact, the doctor even wonders why everyone else doesn’t have wings as well. The ultimate effect is to suggest that the old man is both natural and supernatural at once, having the wings of a heavenly messenger but all the frailties of an earthly creature.
The spider woman represents the fickleness with which many self-interested people approach their own faith. After hearing of the “angel,” hundreds of villagers flock to Pelayo’s house, motivated partly by faith but also to see him perform miracles—physical evidence that their faith is justified. Not surprisingly, the old man’s reputation wanes when he proves capable of performing only minor “consolation miracles.” Instead, the spectators flock to the spider woman, who tells a heart-wrenching story with a clear, easy-to-digest lesson in morality that contrasts sharply with the obscurity of the old man’s existence and purpose. Although no less strange than the winged old man, the spider woman is easier to understand and even pity. The old man, barely conscious in his filthy chicken coop, can’t match her appeal, even though some suspect that he came from the heavens. García Márquez strongly suggests that the pilgrims’ result-oriented faith isn’t really faith at all.