Written by Véronique Laforest


The Critique of the Church in 

«A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings»

    The author of this story, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, illustrates religion as authority, superstition and ignorance.  In the beginning of the story, when the old man lands in Pelayo’s courtyard, things were already going wrong; the baby had a fever, the crabs were all over the place and the weather was bad.  The arrival of this winged man is one more «nightmare»[1] that adds up to the list of undesired events.  Instead of helping the poor man, Pelayo runs to his wife, «frightened[2]».  This passage is quite similar to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, when a stranger is dying along the road and no one dares to help him except the Samaritan.  Marquez’s tale, however, lacks a helper, who likely could have been the «neighbour woman who knew everything about life and death»[3], but she does not take action.  The reader could interpret this passivity as a lack of perfection from the Supreme Being, or a total absence.  Marquez creates an antithesis with his «flesh-and-blood angel»[4], which destroys our preconceived idea of the divine beings that are supposedly faultless, therefore anything but human.  The critique of the church is even more obvious when the angel is depicted as a «fugitive survivor of a celestial conspiracy»[5]; this negative contrast brings the reader to believe that no one is safe from defectiveness, not even religion.  Of course, the fact that the old man looks more human than angelic is another sign of failure; we have such a predetermined idea of the Church that anything that contrasts or differs from our conceptions cannot be accepted and understood, and therefore must be rejected.  This is what Pelayo wants to do with the angel, by putting him on a raft and «leav[ing] him to his fate on the water»[6].  He does not notice that the presence of the angel coincided with the child’s better health.  Again, this illustrates how people are reluctant to «believe in something that appears to be exceptional or beyond an individual’s range of experience»[7].  People tend to disregard what is unknown to them, just like Father Gonzaga who feels that the angel is an «impostor»[8] because he does not understand the «language of God [and that] nothing about him measures up to the proud dignity of angels»[9].  As long as the priest does not have the «final verdict [from the] highest courts»[10], no one knows what to do with the angel.  By this, Marquez critiques the church’s exaggerated authority, which could be interpreted in various domains in our own reality; for instance, it could show that religion takes too much place in the issue of abortion or contraception.  The story denounces how «by the book» religious people can be when Father Gonzaga has to review his catechism before taking action toward the angel.  Logically, he should be helpful and compassionate.  While the angel is still suffering bad treatment from the villagers, Elisenda decides to fence him in and charge the curious to see the prisoner.  The woman and her husband are so selfish that they do nothing to help the poor man; this scene could in many ways be compared to the final stage of Jesus’ life, when he is about to die and the soldiers rip his clothes off to sell them.  The author also questions the miracles of the bible by reversing what happens to the blind man, the paralytic and the leper.  Moreover, Marquez questions the power of religion and shows that everything is not as beautiful and graceful as we have been taught to believe; our understanding of religion is very superficial and «does not include everyday evils»[11].  The angel finally must leave by himself after many years of captivity and solitude; no one is thankful for the good fortune he brought to the family.  They had magic right in front of their eyes but could not recognise it.   

Works Cited

[1] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[2] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[3] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[4] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[5] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[6] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[7] www.bookrags.com

[8] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[9] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[10] www.salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.htlm

[11] www.bookrags.com