Discussing “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • In the short story, there are characters who believe that the man with wings is an angel and characters who do not. Do you think the man is an angel?
  • How is this magical world Marques has created reflective of modern society? Is she trying to highlight how people would treat a holy figure if it were present in our world today?
  • When the angel gets the chicken pox, the doctor listens to his heart. What do you think the whistling in his heart and sounds in his kidneys is? Also, chicken pox is usually a sickness kids get, and the angel is a very old man. What does this say about the angel?
  • The man is finally able to fly away at the end of the story. Do you think the family whom he stayed with was more helpful or hurtful? Did they help him recover, or make his recovery time longer?
  • In the story, it is stated that a woman who disobeyed her parents was turned into a spider as punishment. In many cultures, spiders symbolize an increase of awareness. Do you think that Marquez kept this in mind when she decided to turn the woman into a spider? If not, why do you think she chose that specific insect?

period 2
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  • How would the story be different if the Very Old Man had been a Very Little Baby?
  • What impact does the combination of magical and ordinary details have on the reader?
  • In the story why do they choose to include another supernatural creature in a spider person?
  • How did the old man with enormous wings gain enough strength to fly out of the coup?

period 3
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  • What do you think the crabs may symbolize?
  • Do you think that religion had a major influence over the story and the belief among the people in the story?
  • Why do you think that the couple mistreated the angel and had much antipathy towards him?
  • Do you think that the old man with wings was an angel, a literal man who had wings, or something else?
  • Why do you think that the old man with wings leaves at the end of the story? How was he able to flourish after being really run down?

30 thoughts on “Discussing “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

  1. Lily M

    I think that the man from Marquez’ short story, “The Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, is in fact not an angel but another supernatural being. I decided that since it is also mentioned that another woman turned into a spider so it is plausible for other beings to exist in this fictional world. I am skeptical of the old man being an angel because of the lack of religious evidence presented by the priest that examined him on arrival. The old man is most likely a supernatural being of some kind and not just a regular man. Furthermore, I believe Marquez chose to include another supernatural character in the story to strengthen the idea that this is not an irregular circumstance for the towns people. Since they are aware that a woman shifted into a spider due to a lack of respect for her parents, they can assume that the old man is also some sort of magical being. The spider woman provides another source of supernatural events that have happened in the fictional world and ensure that the “angel” is a possible reality.


  2. Mirabella V.

    I think that a very important aspect of the story is the treatment of the angel. In the story the family believes that he may be an angel, so they keep him in the coop. The act of this is very selfish because they are looking out for themselves. They exploited him for money, where some people who had faith in the man came to pray for a better life, “The most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health:” (148) This part of the story shows how some people truly believed in the angel and went to him with hopes that he could resolve their issues. The family treated the man so poorly, yet kept him just in case he truly was an angel because they wanted that good spirit in their lives. In the story it stated that they got nervous when they thought the man may be dying because they did not know how to deal with a dead angel, but that was the only time that they felt any nervousness when dealing with the man. It goes to show how Marquez uses the angel to show how some people approach faith. Those invalids believed in the angel to solve their issues in hopes of a better life. The family did not know what to believe so they picked the option that would benefit them worse case scenario disregarding how they were treating the man who may be an angel, showing how their idea of faith is superficial.


  3. Willa S

    I absolutely love the question asking, “How would the story be different if the Very Old Man had been a Very Little Baby?” I think the story would completely change. I think that the old man is tolerated begrudgingly, although he sometimes seems endearing to Elisenda, who, at the end, seems proud and possibly melancholy while watching the old man’s departure. Because of the language barrier, the old man was almost like a stray that Elisenda took in. They couldn’t communicate, so he was just a creature that took up space and needed food. That would be true with a baby as well, but in a different way. Elisenda would still be unable to communicate with the baby, but she wouldn’t be missing out on anything that the baby would have to say. Also, a similarity between the elderly and babies, is that both seem helpless. Of course, babies more than the elderly, but still, both evoke sympathy from those around them. Few can resist a baby’s cry or a senior citizen’s ask for help. In that way, I think the story would be similar if it was A Very Little Baby with Enormous Wings. Even as a burden, Elisenda would eventually grow to care about a baby that showed up on her doorstep. I also think finding a baby with wings would be interesting because instead of an angel, people would see something seem more like a cherub. I feel like the events in this alternate story would be incredibly interesting. For example, how would they treat a cherub? Would people covet a baby angel more than they coveted the old man? Would Elisenda raise the child? Would it remember anything from it’s past?


    1. Mirabella V.

      I really like your response to this question. I did not really think about how both extremities of age require a lot of care and sympathy. I also think that if it had been a baby, then the family would have to care for the baby a little bit more, which may have resulted in a stronger attachment to the baby. While abandonment to both the elderly and babies happen. It is seen as more cruel to abandon a baby, than it is to cease care for an elderly person. Going along with the idea that while the two extreme ages are similar, the treatment would probably have different results.


  4. Nick W.

    I think the question of whether the man was an angel or not is left unanswered to purposefully communicate the theme. It doesn’t matter. This story is about treating strangers kindly. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people react to something that is foreign in selfish/judgmental ways. Throughout the story, no one cares for the old man. No one really makes an effort to understand him or comfort him or heal him. Instead, the husband and wife use him as a circus attraction to gain a lot of money, keep him locked with the chickens, and sometimes fear him. The fact that he has wings goes to show how the man can even resemble a holy angel, and humans will approach him in a selfish and unkind way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nick W.

      “…they found the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the angel… tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if he weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal” (355).


    2. Sam S

      I disagree with your kindness take Nick. I think that while the story has some commentary about the human condition, that commentary is not purely based on selfishness. There are to warrants behind this;

      1. The Spider Girl. While the old man is met with scorn, the spider girl is met with adoration. Marquez describes the “Heartrending” nature of her “sincere affliction” (149). While the Spider Girl is still a “carnival attraction,” it is clear the Marquez chooses his words very explicitly and I think the language I pointed to demonstrates that there is at least some level of humanization. Therefore, the people in the story are not purely exploitative and deaminizing of the unknown, and even sympathetic when in the Spider Girl’s unfortunate situation.

      2. Old Man Inhumanity. I think that despite the vaguely human anatomy, the angle is characterized throughout the story as more animal then human. Aside from the obvious animal comparisons (chicken for chicken coup, vulture in the end), there are a few other points where the Old Man is depicted as animal like. For instance, the behavior of the Old Man in captivity is one of “nesting,” a trait commonly associated with animals. So too is the dietary habit of only eating one type of food, eggplant mush in the instance of the Old Man. And much like an animal, the human s are unable to understand a word the Old Man says. Therefore, it makes sense that the humans do not treat him like a compatriot but instead like an animal, since his actions indicate that he behaves more like an animal.

      Therefore, while this story certainly explores the line between humanity and inhumanity/otherness, I don’t think the explanation behind this is as simple as a lack of compassion.


  5. Nick W.

    I’m still a little puzzled about why the author included the girl who had been transformed into a spider. Part of me thinks that it shows how people take differences between each other and blow them out of the water. Whether its skin color, or body shape, or clothing preferences, people often see someone different and view them as a half spider, half girl! Another part of me thinks it shows how surface-level the people’s interest in the old man was. The second there was another supernatural anomaly, no one cared about him anymore. A third part of me thinks that it was included to simply show that supernatural beings are more common in the made up world of this story. I’m not sure. Maybe its all three!


    1. Nick W.

      Once the girl who had been turned into a spider showed up, “…Pelayo’s courtyard went back to being as empty as during the time it had rained for three days and crabs walked through the bedrooms” (358).


    2. Mirabella V.

      I really like this questioning about this part of the story. I was also confused about how the addition of another supernatural character. I agree with the idea that it may have been to add another extreme to see how some people treat those who are different than them. For the man he is treated horribly and exploited for money, while the woman gains some sympathy while retelling the story that ended her in her current spider form. The story that she has gives a lesson to others, which may be a reason for her treatment because the man is just there with wings and no explanation? But another idea of the inclusion of the spider woman may be to show that there are multiple supernatural creatures in this world, so it may lead the reader to believe that the man is not an angel, but just another supernatural creature. And that his treatment is just an unfortunate result of him landing in the hands of the wrong, greedy family.



    How would the story be different if the Very Old Man had been a Very Little Baby?

    I think that if the old man was a baby the community would have reacted completely differently. A child is impressionable and can be molded to act and communicate just like the people around them. For this reason, I think that everyone would be ecstatic to have an angel that they can impress their own will onto. Since the old man was sickly, and there was a language barrier no one believed that he could help them in any significant way. This coupled with his appearance lead to him being neglected, and I think the opposite would happen with a baby.


  7. Max L

    I think the crabs may symbolize two main things, the first being a reminder of a more simple life that Pelayo used to have, and the second being a minor annoyance that seems to be forgotten because of larger problems. When Pelayo first sees the old man with the wings, we is frightened, so he locks up the old man in his coop, and gathers crabs with his wife. Presumably, the crabs are used as a food source for Pelayo’s family, and they represent the simplicity of his life. Later in the story, when the narrator mentions the two story mansion that Pelayo has built, the narrator mentions that they installed “high netting so that crabs wouldn’t get in during the winter.” In this case, the crabs are an annoyance to Pelayo and his family, and they are something that he doesn’t want to deal with in the winter, that is why he tries to keep them out of his house. The crabs are somewhat forgotten, however, because of the “angel” and all of the worries that Pelayo and his wife have about it.



    How is this magical world Marques has created reflective of modern society? Is she trying to highlight how people would treat a holy figure if it were present in our world today?

    Yes, I think the story points out the hypocrisy between how we talk about holy figures versus how we act in the real world. I think a good example is Christianity, Jesus was known for being around the people who needed him most, so a lot of his company weren’t the most put together, well-respected people. However, in today’s world when someone devotes their life to service or surrounds themselves with people who are struggling, we just group them up with people who are believed to be less than. The “angel” represents this hypocrisy perfectly because there is no evidence that he is not from God, but when push comes to shove it is too inconvenient to treat everyone with respect and dignity, even for these Christian people who believe in angels.


  9. NATE F

    I believe that the man in, “A very old man with enormous wings” was an angel. Although, the neighbor was incorrect when she said he was coming for the child. If this was true there would have probably been someone sent later in the story. I believe that the man with enormous wings may have crashed there on purpose. He was actually sent to help the family with financial troubles. The house was run down, covered with crabs and flooded with water. While the angel was there, the family, put him on display to make money. People paid to see the spectacle. This may seem cruel, although the angel had patience and I think this was because he knew this was his purpose. The family took this too far though and allowed people to hurt the man with enormous wings. They may be punished for this later. The money the family made allowed them to build a 2-story mansion and protect themselves from the crabs. After the man with enormous wings completed what he was sent to do, he flew away as not to become a burden to the family. This man was an angel, as he allowed himself to be hurt and put on display, in order to help the family.


  10. Max L

    I think the couple mistreated the angel and showed antipathy towards it for a couple reasons. First, they seem skeptical of the old man’s legitimacy as an angel, and for that reason, they keep him in custody for their own safety, which is a fair choice. Secondly, the town as a whole seems to reject the idea of supernatural beings and probably doesn’t worship angels in the same way that a predominantly Christian town would, and I think that contributes to the negative attitude that Pelayo and his wife have toward the angel. These two reasons serve as the foundation for the poor treatment that the angel receives.



    Why do you think that the old man with wings leaves at the end of the story? How was he able to flourish after being really run down?

    In A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez the condition of the angel is directly related to the family’s child and simultaneously shows the families incapacity to develop faith. At the beginning of the story when the child is sick the mother is seemingly caring towards her then when the angel comes she immediately forgets about the child it is not mentioned again until 358. The angel begins to get worse and worse as the parents focus on making wealth off of the angel. Once the child is allowed to see the angel then they both come down with chicken pox at the same time on page 359. The doctor says that it is almost impossible for the old man’s alive based on how his heart sounds. The angel then, weak and effeminate, is stuck at the house by himself when the child leaves for school. Then he understands that he will no longer have the child to look after and he becomes even weaker- so much so that he even worries the father at one point. Marquez makes it clear that the parents still no not have faith in this angel when he writes, “for they thought he was going to die and not even the wise neighbor woman had been able to tell them what to do with dead angels” (359). The angel understands that the family is never going to become faithful and he no longer has the child to look after, so he leaves. Then at the end even after he leaves the woman thinks, “then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon” (360). This final line in the story further exemplifies that this family will never be able to hold faith and it was worth it to leave them than be an image of how to become genuine to a faith.



    In the flipgrid Aaron describes his theme as the terminator that the people use religion/faith wrong when handling their problems. I think that Aaron is right to describe this as a central theme in the reading specifically through Father Gonzaga and the two farmers but an important addition is also the “viewers” of the angel. When Father Gozaga comes to look at the angle he does not trust it, “He argued that if wings were the essential element in determining the difference between a hawk and an airplane, they were even less so in the recognition of angels” (356). Father Gonzaga’s misinterpretation of the angel as a priest shows that even someone who is directly tied to religion is unable to have faith in the angel. Father Gozaga also comments on the similarity of the situation to something the devil would create, “carnival tricks to confuse the unwary” (356). The next paragraph ironically starts with “A traveling carnival arrived..” (356), the family is taking advantage of the angel with disregard to it’s well being. Everyone who visits the angel in order to try and take wisdom by paying a fee to get is a parallel to a church. Like a church, people are supposed to be able to practice their religion and values and are being profited off of. Even as the people come to see the angel they throw stones at him and their sacramental candles heated up the chicken coop he slept in. They are not practicing moral or religious values when they see the angel, it’s all a show which I think Marquez thinks about religion. That these people do not come to learn and connect spiritually with each other but to say they went because it reflects better on them.


  13. Zoe H

    The man is finally able to fly away at the end of the story. Do you think the family whom he stayed with was more helpful or hurtful? Did they help him recover, or make his recovery time longer?

    The family the man stayed with was undoubtedly a harmful and exploitative force in his life. It is difficult to assess what his recovery would have been like under different circumstances, since we have no indication of how he would have fared in a different scenario. Nevertheless, I doubt that the family was helpful to him. They treated him atrociously, and their only redeeming choice was that to spare his life instead of clubbing him upon first glance. I think it is a possibility that the grotesque conditions he was forced to weather may have served as a motivation for him to escape. Threat and perceived danger can serve as catalysts for personal reform, growth, and motivation to escape our current situation. Yet this type of recovery is in no way preferable to that a nurturing environment would offer. His recovery was elusive, and somewhat spontaneous to the outside world, “… for he was quite careful that no one should notice it, that no one would hear the sea chanteys that he sometimes sang under the stars” (360). His desire to divert attention from his recovery most likely reveals that the family did not aid him in any sense.


  14. Zoe H

    Why do you think that the couple mistreated the angel and had much antipathy towards him?

    The couples’ antipathy evidently stemmed from a lack of understanding and mutual recognition. Because the man was so unusual, the couple processed their fear and confusion through hatred and greed. The man could have reminded them of impending death or the fragility of the human condition. The town the couple lives in seems to be impoverished and dreary, therefore their fascination with mocking and exploiting the old man’s suffering may be an outlet for them to project their feelings about their own condition onto someone else. By tokenizing and gawking at someone who seems to be suffering more than them, they can alleviate their own grievances and anxieties. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if these people do not have basic physiological or security needs met – they in no way are equipped to be emotionally intelligent or at a point of self actualization. They may have refused to believe in something as pure as an angel, if life could treat them so cruelly. In turn, if the angel were factitious, and the old man were some other creature – it most likely would have threatened their stability that was hanging by a thread.


  15. Sam S

    The magical aspects of Marquez’s world is one of his defining features as a write. In this story, Marquez’s use of magical realism allows him to explore the meaning of humanity in a way he might otherwise not be able to. In the story, something seemingly supernatural like an Angel is treated with the utmost regularity — even the determination that the creature is an Angel is plain and direct; “He’s an angel” a women from the town unceremoniously proclaims (147). The angel is not regarded with any reverence but instead locked up and put on display. By filling the story with Magical realist elements and specifically the angle, Marquez is able to craft a new architype. The angel’s association with religion, age, humanity, etc. allows Marquez to comment on the human condition without relying on cliché. Therefore, the use of magical realism is to comment on the integration of certain concepts into society by personifying them in a normalized way that is analogues to society but also not cliché.


  16. I believe that the man from Marquez’ short story, “The Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, is in fact neither man nor angel. The being possesses a pair of wings. 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.


  17. After hearing of the angel, hundreds of villagers flock to Pelayo’s house, motivated partly by faith but also to see him perform miracles, or otherwise, physical evidence that their faith is justified. Not surprisingly, the old man’s reputation wanes when he proves capable of performing only minor 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.


  18. SYDNEY R

    In response to the short story, “A Very Old Man with Wings” by Gabrial Garcia Marquez, I am responding to the question, “Do you think the man is an angel?” I do not think the man with wings is an angel. Although, I do believe that he is another supernatural creature that we do not know much about yet. On page 356, it states, “The parish priest had his first suspicion of an imposter when he saw that he did not understand the language of God or know how to greet His ministers. Then he noticed that seen close up he was much too human.” In this quotation, the parish priest notices that the supernatural being that nobody knows too much about could be human. That is why I believe that the very old man with wings is not an angel. He seems to have too many similarities to a human besides his wings. This is what had led me to the belief of him being a supernatural creature.


  19. SYDNEY R

    In the short story, “A Very Old Man with Wings,”I responded to the question that period 2 asked, “Why do you think the couple mistreated the angel and had much antipathy towards him?” The first thing that I would say about this question is that I personally do not believe that the man with wings was an angel. Although, I answered that question in my other response, so I will not go into that further. I feel like the couple had so much antipathy towards the man due to their religion. Throughout the whole story, no specific piece of evidence, the priest and his family are so focused on how God would not accept the man with wings and how they use their religion to evaluate the man’s needs. I think that this is very unfair and that no religion should block out a “human” or creature just because of their appearance. I also think that there is no mutual recognition between the couple and the “angel” because neither one of them respect or accept one another. The couple tends to put all of their faith in God, making it harder to accept that there could be a supernatural creature roaming their grounds. that is why they mistreated the man, they do not accept who he is as a creature and barely accepts hium as part human.


  20. Sarah K

    I found that the plot of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” was a very interesting one as well. I have never read a story like that before and although it wasn’t my favorite out of the ones I read I enjoyed reading a different type of story. I will be responding to question two of the Questionaire’s question on the flipgrid, “What impact does the combination of magical and ordinary details have on the reader?” To begin, I think the combination of these two different story telling features makes this particular story have a draw to a larger audiance than a story with just magical details or just realistic details would have. Certain people have certain preferences on what genre of story they read whether it is all supernatural/magical or all ordinary fiction. I know that me personally, I have a preference to stories that are realistic and have almost all aspects that can relate to the real world and I would almost never pick a supernatural/magic book. However, I was not totally disinterested when reading this story because it had realistic aspects surrounding the families life. As well, I think the two different kind of details cause the reader to really use their imagination, which according to Nabokov is very important skill for a good reader to read a good story. So, since this story utilizes so many supernatural/magical aspects such as the very old man himself or the woman who was turned into a spider it causes the reader to really create the stories scene in their head themselves since none of that we see in real life. That way the reader has no way of imagining it from something that is real.


  21. Grace W

    Do you think that the old man with wings was an angel, a literal man who had wings, or something else?

    I think that the old man was an angel. Maybe he was an angel that was getting older and wasn’t as strong as he used to be. Many of the neighbors believe he was an angel too. The neighborhood women said, “‘He’s an angel,’ she told them. ‘He must have been coming for the child, but the poor fellow is so old that the rain knocked him down.” (p. 355). Similar to the neighborhood women, he is an angel but is getting older and weaker. He was getting weaker to begin with and then the rainstorm made him even weaker. His wings were covered in mugs and feathers were torn and missing. He was too weak to go anywhere, so that is why he had to stay in the chicken coop for so long. After food and rest, he got strong and was able to use his wings again and leave the chicken coop. While it was unclear if he completed what he came for, I do believe he was an angel and not a man with wings.


  22. Grace W

    Why do you think that the couple mistreated the angel and had much antipathy towards him?

    The couple mistreated the angel because they did not want to take care of him. The angel got in the way of their plans and their lives. People from all over the world came to their chicken coop to see him. The angel was an inconvenience for them and instead of trying to help the angel, they gave him their bare minimum. They also did not know how to take care of him. They had never seen anything like him before and did not know what to do. They put him in their chicken coop, gave him food and water but that was about it. Because they did not know what to do they resented the angel. It was too much for the couple to handle and that stress grew more and more. “…Unhinged Elisenda shouted that it was awful living in that hell full of angels.” (p. 359). They snapped, they couldn’t take it anymore and started to lash out on the angel and the visitors. The angel was unexpected and unwanted by Pelayo and Elisenda, which led to hostility and mistreatment of the angel.


  23. NATE F

    If the old man with enormous wings was instead a baby with smaller wings still large for his size the story would have been very different. The fact that he was an old man likely made the people in the story skeptical if he was an angel because most angels are portrayed as babies in paintings and sculptures. The priest would likely still find it odd that he did not speak Latin but I believe this would not get much thought. In addition, this would make it extremely unlikely that the wings were his punishment like the girl that turned into a spider. As a baby is likely not capable of doing something wrong enough to be turned into a supernatural creature.

    As a result of believing that the baby was actually an angel it would have been treated much better. If the family truly believed that it was a religious figure they would likely have helped the baby back to health. They most definitely would not have put it on display if they believed he was sent from God. In addition, the family in the story seemed reasonable and would likely never let someone hurt a baby. This change in age would have impacted almost every part of the story as a baby would never be subjected to the horrible things they did to the old man. This shows how perception of a person can change so drastically with age.


  24. I will be answering the question “How would the story be different if the Very Old Man had been a Very Little Baby?” I think that the story would be different if the old many was a baby because in the story the angel was not being treated well. In the text it states “and before going to bed he dragged him out of the mud and locked him up with the hens in the wire chicken coop.” I think that if he was a baby they would not have dragged him like that or stuck him outside. I think this would have changed the course for the rest of the story because they would have been much kinder and they would not have expected so much out of the old man.


  25. the next question I will be answering is “What impact does the combination of magical and ordinary details have on the reader?” I think the use of the ordinary details In the text such as normal humans with problems and animals are there to give us things that we can grasp on to and understand and that the use of magic and supernatural creatures is there to add creativity.


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