A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez, 1955
The magic trick:
Refusing straight-line symbols and themes
It’s García Márquez Week on the SSMT site, and we begin with one of his most famous stories.
Not surprisingly, we are in the realm of magic realism here. The title is not a metaphor. The central character in the story is just that – a very old man with enormous wings.
Ah, but then what metaphor is this old man?
That’s the question.
And, honestly, I’m still not sure. But I think that’s the beauty of the story. So many stories are full of straight lines. They might be intricately built maps, but all roads lead to a central theme. Not so here. There are any number of interpretations and thematic implications.
Certainly, organized religion takes it on the chin. Human nature takes a hit. Capitalism takes a hit.
No societal institution is immune. No character is immune. Even the very old man himself could be criticized for passivity and unwillingness to communicate. The story is a tangled mess of negativity and admonishment. And that’s quite a trick on García Márquez’s part.
His prudence fell on sterile hearts. The news of the captive angel spread with such rapidity that after a few hours the courtyard had the bustle of a marketplace and they had to call in troops with fixed bayonets to disperse the mob that was about to knock the house down. Elisenda, her spine all twisted from sweeping up so much marketplace trash, then got the idea of fencing in the yard and charging five cents admission to see the angel.
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