Written by Lyne Morissette


The use of Magic Realism in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"

In the 1940’s, there was a considerable emergence of Latin American writers, who followed a specific literary pattern:  Magic realism.  This literary genre, inspired by an art genre, is characterised by the meeting of paradoxes, unifying the realistic American mentality and fantastic elements.  This blending shows extraordinary elements as rational ones.  (Moore, 1998) Many authors are associated with this literary form, but most of them are Latin Americans. Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of them.  His novels and short stories are impregnated with a magical touch to help the reader see reality more Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquezclosely.  An example of this genre would be one of his short stories: “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” published in 1955.  The story is about a family, who was living either in Spain or Latin America, and who found a flesh and blood angel.  This creature spoke in another language and was almost dead.  These people put him in a safe place, but did not take care of him; instead, they made people pay to see him.  The mob was mean to him, because he was not giving a “show”.  When his wounds finally healed, he flew away.

There are not a lot of fantastic elements in this story, but their importance makes up for this lack.  A good case of magic realism is the old man with wings.  This part is obviously impossible, but Marquez is treating this feature as if it was part of the real world. “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.” (Marquez, 2004) There is no explanation about where he is from, why he ended up there or why he is in such bad condition.  The focus is not on these types elements in magic realism, but more on the interactions that this character has with others.   Pelayo and Elisenda, the people who found him, did not treat him as a miracle, as an amazing discovery; on the contrary, they did not feel blessed at all, seeing him as an annoyance.  They started to make money out of him by displaying him in front of the mob in exchange for an admission fee.  Once Pelayo and Elisenda got richer and saw that this miserable man was not collaborating with them on the “show”, they were irritated by his presence.  Later, a circus came to town with all sorts of weird specimens.  There was a woman, who has been transformed into a spider for disobeying to her parents.  The spider woman is another “magical” feature of the story and she symbolizes the show a population expects from a circus freak.  The extraordinary feature the angel represents is how capitalism and egocentrism are ruling this society and the Americans.  Instead of thinking about a miracle when they found him, they think about incomes and trouble.  Marquez wanted to show the cold nature of this society by introducing an unexpected and impossible element to the story.  

 “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” also contains some paradoxical utterances such as “flesh-and-blood angel” and “hell full of angels”.  The use of these expressions just illustrates how the angel and the population enter into conflict together, how the angel is the contrary of what humans expect from an angel.  What is paradoxical is how people react to a creature like this old man.  He is an angel, but they treated him like he was something sent from hell: “Then he came out of the chicken coop and in a brief sermon warned the curious against the risks of being ingenuous. He reminded them that the devil had the bad habit of making use of carnival tricks in order to confuse the unwary” (Marquez, 2004).  Ironically, even Father Gonzaga did not have pity for him.  Marquez, with the use of magical features, shows how people are in reality.  This paradox is tremendously well presented in this short story, which is considered a model of the magic realism genre.  

 Works Cited