Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

What struck me most about this story was the multitude of people that came to visit the old man under the assumption that he was an angel. As soon as people heard that an angel had been discovered in a random sea-side town they began pilgrimages from nearly everywhere to see him. What intrigued me was that these people believed in the man’s supernatural origins with little to no reason why, but then quickly abandoned their fervor at just about the same pace. Once they heard that the man had wings, they assumed he was an angel.
 So, I guess the question I asked myself was what allows us to distinguish between the divine and the unusual? I think in the case of this story it is very difficult to tell. Once the old woman determines that the man is an angel it becomes common knowledge. However, the priest continues to look for tangible evidence. He needs the old man’s authenticity as an angel to be verified by the church. This is at odds with what the church teaches. Believing in God means believing in something intangible and unverifiable, however, the priest is the first person to doubt the old man’s credibility. The priest remains unable to identify the old man as an angel before the crowds of people abandon him in search of the next source of wonder.
Garcia-Marquez seems to be implying that people follow religion because of the sense of wonder that it can make them feel, but the clergyman in the story appears to lack this element. This again leaves me wondering what makes something worth believing in. I think the crowd of people in the story made it clear that the sense of wonder associated with religion is what makes something worth believing in. However, I think that this sensation can be accompanied by the tangible and real, as in the case of the old man and the spider woman, making it more impactful to an audience. People are constantly looking for something other than themselves to pin their hopes on and I think that is what is happening in this story.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You raise an interesting point. There were a large number of people who did come to see the old man. This aspect does make me wonder about the other fantastical things that can occur in the world that this story takes place in. I feel that the people who came to see the old man linked him with the supernatural just because that would be an easy way to explain his existence. Sure, they can't say exactly what he is, but he does fall under their "supernatural" umbrella. His large wings does make him sound "angelic" but his appearance seems far from it.

    I really adore your question of "what allows us to distinguish between the divine and unusual?" As I said before, hearing about his "enormous wings" does make the old man sound divine. However, when the people see him, they do not wholly perceive the old man as being something divine. Calling upon my lifetime of Catholic schooling, we were always taught that heavenly creatures were absolutely beautiful and flawless. The old man is far from being a gorgeous and majestic creature sent from heaven. Even the priest is unable to give him credibility for being an "angel." As you say, the people who came to see him, moved onto the next wondrous thing that they could find- which happened to be a spider woman. Truly a creature of wonder.

    Though I do not know Marquez's sentiments towards religion, they do not appear to be very positive in this story. It seems like religion is used as a means for explaining the unexplainable. For instance, a mysterious old man with enormous wings drops onto someone's property. He must be an angel, just look at those wings. Back to the question that you raised, it does seem difficult to separate what is divine and what is unusual. I am sure that the people who came seeking to see something unusual did not call the spider woman "divine." However, as a reader, a woman turning into a spider does seem pretty mystical! Though I think if this woman had turned into something with a religious link, then people would be calling her a divine being. Perhaps the old man would have been tangible proof for many that their religion is real or that there is a greater force at play. Unfortunately for them, the old man gave them no clarification for their beliefs.

  3. As Laura posed it, how do we distinguish the divine from the unnatural? This question immediately led me to think about how there seems to be a fine line between supernatural (which is acceptable) and abnormal (which is not). Considering the aversion society has towards those with disabilities, who's to say that those sort of people are not gifted versus being "lacking" or "inadequate." In my women writers class we've been discussing a lot about those with disability and one of my articles states, "Because disability is defined not as a set of observable, broadly predictable traits, such as femaleness or skin color, but rather as any departure from the physical, mental, and psychological norms and expectations of a particular culture, disability highlights individual differences." The quote is pretty extensive, but does that not sound like the man with enormous wings, or even the woman with the spider body? Both of these characters fit into this category of "out of the norm," yet it is immediately assumed by a general audience that this man is an angel and not an invalid or a freak or sideshow.

    What I'm getting at here is WHY Marquez chose to have the old man assumed by society to be supernatural/positive rather than abnormal/negative? This is an enormous choice in the story and I think it holds a lot of weight as far as how to interpret the piece. Personally, I think that Marquez wanted to utilize the image of religion and imitate it as closely as possible but not copy it to a T - that would send the wrong message. By making the old man seem angelic but also putting in contrasting images of his parasitic wings and strange, passive behavior, Marquez creates more of a controversial, thought-provoking plot rather than something that ultimately resembles religion unmistakeably. It is easier for us to argue whether the man is an angel or not because of the more gruesome/abnormal details Marquez uses. I think it's a really great writing skill to have and I'm envious of it as an aspiring author.

  4. source: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, (2001) "Re-shaping, Re-thinking, Re-defining: Feminist Disability Studies"
    from the Center for Women Policy Studies (Washington D.C., 2001)

  5. I think is is interesting how you bring in the idea of disability. The old man's physical weakness and insect infested wings prevent him from leaving Pelayo's chicken coop. Garcia-Marquez might be implying that people are willing to overlook any number of shortcomings if it will benefit them in the future. The old man as an angel provides the people who come to see him with hope that their lives can be changed for the better without their own agency. Whether what they want changed is something that they can't change on their own, or don't want to, believing in an angel gives them hope. I guess maybe thats my explanation of why I think the people in this story will believe in the man as an angel despite the fact that he fits none of the stereotypes they expect. They want to believe that their lives can be improved and he provides them tangible evidence of this possibility.

    I think that the people coming to him with illnesses are also interesting to consider. Is Garcia-Marquez highlighting people with ridiculous ailments to make a statement about the type of people who seek solace in divinity? The ridiculous ailments and even more ridiculous cures lend to this. However, I think it is more interesting to note that all of the ailments (the most unfortunate in the world) are associated with some form of mental illness. As with the idea of divinity, they are not tangible easily identifiable illnesses. I honestly am not quite sure how this all ties in, but I do see a correlation between the two and am curious as to why that is.