A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
by Gabriel García Márquez
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
When most of us think of angels, we think of wings, but not really wings like the one this old man has. We might think of some huge, strong, Clorox-white flappers, but the poor old man has "huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, [. . .] forever entangled in the mud" (2).
Hungry for a brain snack? "Buzzards" in the Americas usually refer to vultures. So, when you read "buzzard wings," thinks something like this. Not too pretty, right? In Europe, buzzards are much nobler-looking raptors.
The point is, that even though angels can be associated with death, we usually think of a sexy kind of Grim Reaper angel, not rotting flesh and scavenged carcasses.
Surprising us with these metaphors puts us into the position of the townspeople, who, when they heard they were going to see an angel, probably didn't expect what they saw—something a lot more like a "huge decrepit hen" than a noble bird of prey (5).
Even when the old man decides to take off and fly away, he doesn't get a break: "Elisenda let out a sigh of relief, for herself and for him, when she saw him pass over the last houses, holding himself up in some way with the risky flapping of a senile vulture" (13).
By giving a twist to the mythology (comparing angels to buzzards and vultures rather than noble birds), Gárcia Márquez does a funny thing: he brings the "realism" to "magical realism."
It's easy to talk about being good and kind when you're thinking about heaven, where everything is clean and smells like fabric softener. But what about in the real nitty-gritty of life? What happens when that angel you believe in actually comes down to earth, and he turns out to be a dirty old man rather than a chubby, winged baby? What good does religion do, then?