A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
by Gabriel García Márquez
Young Adult Literature; Magical Realism; Satire
The subtitle of this story is "A Tale for Children," which first leads us to believe that this is young adult literature. And the story does have a sort of children's-story feel to it. It's got fantastic creatures, it's short and sweet, and seems to be teaching a moral lesson.
But it's pretty heady stuff for kids. In fact, we think that the subtitle actually tells us, through satire, that it's not a tale for kids at all. Instead, it's a tongue-in-cheek, biting warning for adults about how silly people can act when they get around something really special.
And how do they act? They want to cash in on it (Elisenda), explain it in terms that don't quite work (Father Gonzaga), kill it (the neighbor woman), or poke it with a stick (everybody else). By representing society in such a ridiculous way through using characters as representations of particular worldviews, Gárcia Márquez is laying on a pretty heavy satire.
But there's still the little problem of the angel crash-landing into an otherwise perfectly ordinary story about the weird ways people can act. This genre takes a realistic setting, like the kind of crappy town where Elisenda and Pelayo live, and throws a magical element into it, like a very old man with enormous wings, but doesn't really acknowledge that that's, well, weird.
And that's why this is hands-down, no-question, picture-perfect Magical Realism. (Yeah, it was kind of Márquez's hallmark.)
Magical Realism was a huge deal for Latin American literature in the mid-20th century. The genre put Latin American authors on the international map and produced a "boom," a.k.a. tons of bestsellers by Nobel Prize winners like Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, and, of course, Gárcia Márquez.
And thanks to "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," you can get your magical realism hit in just a handful of paragraphs, without having to slog through pages and pages about labeled cows. (Although we still think you should.)