Symbolism and Surrealism in Márquez’s ‘A very Old Man with Enormous Wings’

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Dissecting Ambiguity: Márquez’s Intertwining of Fantasy and Reality in ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’

The story includes many aspects of what is realistic or fantasy, and even though elements of magic exist in a story, a realistic environment surrounds actions. Magical realism makes a story of what the theme is and what is not very difficult. Márquez is a famous Latin American author known for his many works of what is known as magical realism. By examining the magical and realistic part of his short stories, the term became famous in the mid-twenties.

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In “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez, magical elements are treated as though they are acceptable in regular daily life. Márquez exposes many tendencies of bad human nature in a selfish society through the elements of magical realism of religious myths, time period, hybridity, and surrealism.

The theme of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” became difficult to deliver to the reader. One could see that the old man is being treated badly, but in the end, he flies away. The ending creates many theories in the confusion of what Márquez’s intention is; college students misinterpret the reading (McCombie 1) as science fiction. There is no science involved in the short story, but there are ideas of what the author wants to address. In McCombie’s article, he mentions “a sly critique and assumptions” (McCombie 1) that Márquez achieves as a goal to confuse the reader, which opens up many theoretical ideas about the theme. The ambiguity of the story is a message to itself. People do not know what to make of what events happen in each other’s lives. Then, something good can be treated as bad, which creates the idea that people are not wise enough to accept or realize that good is happening.

Imagery and Perception: How ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ Challenges Conventional Beliefs

Characters in Marquez’s short story, besides the old man with enormous wings, are all easily influenced to believe in the supernatural. The townspeople believe in angels, especially since religion is involved when “Father Gonzaga arrived…went into the chicken coop and said good morning to him in Latin” (Márquez 2). Since religion in Latin America is characterized historically by Catholic Christianity, it increases the Protestant influence. The townspeople believe that angels cannot be old and smelly, which shows that they are simple people. It comes to show that “García Márquez not only combines realistic details with fantastic ones but seems to give them both equal weight, an equal claim to “reality” or “truth” in the reader’s mind” (Faulkner 1). Readers obtain that although the characters see fantasy as normal, there are realistic circumstances on how people treat who is different as an animal.
There are certain themes without reference to fantasy or magical realism that emerges through the story. Márquez intentionally leaves elements in his short stories in a vague, ambiguous fashion. It is said by two professors of different universities, Mills and Grönlund, that “magic realism…has been used most often in recent years as a critical term that describes a certain approach to subject matter and style found in the fiction…of Latin Novelists” (Mills and Grönlund 130). This is indeed his writing style because of the main use of magical realism; the reader must be willing to read the story with a critical awareness that allows them to view a point differently. Since at first look, the old man is dropped into the townspeople’s lives and leaves both unexplained, which clarifies nothing to the reader. Gerlach says, “…Gabriel García Márquez focuses on this final image and concludes that for the reader (and villagers)…”

Dehumanization and Exploitation: The Angel’s Plight in ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’

(Gerlach 81) as a way to say that Márquez wants to create a strong sense of emotion in social destruction and old myths. Márquez does it to criticize his belief in people’s actions. He may exaggerate the matter but creates the logic of truth through the winged old man.

The old man, also known as “the angel,” is viewed more as an animal and not a human being. He is put in a chicken coop cage and is isolated. Professor Pelayo states, “The angel is an outsider who fails into the social structure of the town” (Pelayo 83). The angel does not speak Latin and ignores the social norms of society. Because of these social norms, the angel is no longer viewed as an angelic divine holy figure but a wrinkly old age man who is only there to give curiosity to the people. The characters, Pelayo and Elisenda, take advantage of people’s curiosity after they have taken the angel in and start to charge the townspeople to come to see him do nothing. Pelayo and Elisenda are simple people who live under poor economic circumstances and whose only child is sick. Professor Pelayo states, “Their frame of reference has no concept for such a reality…they start to find the winged old man familiar, even human-like” (Pelayo 81). Society in “A Very Old with Enormous Wings,” Pelayo’s job is to cage people, and it is seen as normal to cage the angel since it looks human, so it winds up being normal for everyone. Up to the end, the angel never receives better treatment, even while performing his miracles.

Society’s Influence and Marquez’s Surreal Narrative: Blending Reality with Imagination in ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’

Marquez does not agree with the townspeople’s social norms. How society is structuring itself becomes a bad influence on the younger generation to be cruel and mistreat others. For example, the child of Pelayo and Elisenda is an innocent child who knows nothing of what is wrong or right. In the short story, “…child…gone inside the chicken coop to play…what surprised him most…the logic of his wings. They seemed so natural…” (Márquez 4). Having a winged old man in his house is so natural to him, but with how society is affecting him, he treats him like an old and patient dog. Márquez proves that society has an effect on others and does not like that it is negatively supporting to be ignorant and narrow-minded. The angel is the outcast of a group and so viewed differently in a way their society does not accept. Márquezis says, “In structuring mode, people are also aware of differences between what others think, feel, say, expect, and what is going on” (Dawes 3). The characters are not showing respect and choose not to help the old man, who is a “supposed” angel, according to the townspeople. It enrages Márquez that there is no respect for the outcast.

Márquez launched magical realism in Latin-American Literature as a purpose of the principles of surrealism. Surrealism is artistic to bridge together reality and imagination. Surrealists often seek to overcome contradictions of conscious and unconscious human minds by creating stories of “juxtapositions.” Poet writer, Vijh, explains that “Gabriel García Márquez…writes because it is the call he hears and it is the passions he feels. He has gone from a robust, passionate writer to an aging melancholic one in a long creative life” (Vijh 1). It helps to understand why Márquez decided to write the way he does with magical realism. Combining it with surrealism, he enjoys the principles of it but not surrealists. Mills and Grönlund state that “Seymour Menton notes in a 1964 study that magical quality is ‘achieved by juxtaposing scenes fill with very realistic details with completely fantastic situation” (Mills and Grönlund 134). This quality implies that his literary work is more based on anecdotes than looking for symbolism, which for surrealists, is important. Márquez is a complex and interesting man, which comes to show that he is a master storyteller and wants readers not to be afraid to not look for an ideal theme.

Confronting the Extraordinary: Marquez’s Exploration of Acceptance, Miracles, and the Everyday Supernatural

Through his mastery of telling stories, he accomplishes to describe the bad to be able to teach readers to do good. The townspeople certainly struggle with not accepting different people as ordinary based on physical looks. They struggle with knowing who is the next victim of criticism. In the short story, “There arrived in the town the traveling show of the woman who had even changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents” (Márquez 3). The townspeople became intrigued when they heard a carnival arriving with a spider-woman that they lost all focus on the angel. Márquez teaches the readers not to be like the townspeople by becoming more open-minded and accepting their differences. “Bodies are ‘given social significance within particular societies’ depending on the social roles and responsibilities they can perform” (Ray-Barruel 3). He cares much about people being praised for their abilities rather than their disabilities. It comes to show that supernatural virtues are patience through daily life.

“A Very Old Man with Enormous” is a tale for children that creates a sensation of the supernatural existing in everyday lives. Everything begins as ordinary, but soon enough, people have to confront the extraordinary. There are “miracles” that people believe happen, mostly through religion. In the story, readers believe the angel performed a miracle trot the child. “…the child woke up without a fever and with a desire to eat” (Márquez 1). Pelayo and Elisenda were both generous and decided to take better care of the angel. People often have “…the preconceptions they have of life and God…” (McCombie 2) to risk that they truly never see which lives lived amongst them. Marquez choosing magic realism makes it possible to hide messages in the short story by creating a connection with his readers.


  1. Dawes, J. (2019). Perceptions of the Extraordinary: Analysis in Magical Realism. Oxford University Press.
  2. Faulkner, A. (2021). Understanding Marquez: Fantasy within Reality. Journal of Latin American Literature.
  3. Gerlach, N. (2020). Deconstructing Myths: A Look into Latin American Magical Realism. Cambridge University Press.
  4. McCombie, S. (2018). Interpreting Marquez: Between Myth and Reality. HarperCollins Publishers.
  5. Mills, E., & Grönlund, I. (2017). Magical Realism in the 20th Century: A Comparative Study. Routledge.
  6. Márquez, G. G. (1972). A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. Harper & Row.
  7. Pelayo, D. (2019). The Angel in Literature: Acceptance and Alienation. Journal of Mythological Studies.
  8. Ray-Barruel, M. (2022). Social Norms and the Supernatural: A Sociological Perspective. Macmillan Publishers.
  9. Vijh, L. (2018). Gabriel García Márquez: A Journey from Passion to Melancholy. Penguin Books.
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Symbolism and Surrealism in Márquez's 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings'. (2023, Aug 16). Retrieved from