The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
He's a man of few (and incomprehensible) words. He could use a bath. And, oh, yeah, he's got a gigantic pair of wings. Not too appealing, to say the least. (Something like this, maybe.) Let's take a closer look at how he's described:
He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather had taken away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud. (2)
You know what's kind of interesting here? Look at the analogies and metaphors that Gárcia Márquez uses: he's "like a ragpicker," he's in the state "of a drenched great-grandfather," and he has "buzzard wings." Ragpicker, great-grandfather, and buzzard: all things that are at the bottom of the heap. So to speak.
This description really drives home that this guy is basically the equivalent of the poor guy huddled under newspaper in front of the library holding a sign saying, "They're coming for you." Not very awe-inspiring; more like move-to-the-other-side-of-the-street-inspiring.
He Said, She Said
And who is this "he"? Well, it depends on how you talk to. The narrator calls him "the old man," but the townspeople call him "the angel." (When the narrator calls him "angel," is sounds pretty ironic.) But is he both? Neither? Does it matter?
Well, we think it kind of does matter. It matters that we're not sure what to think, and it matters that we have to decide. See, the story itself is letting us know that we should doubt what we're seeing, or reading about. But it's also pointing out that we have to decide for ourselves. The old man/angel can't speak for himself—or, he can't speak in a way that we understand—so it's up to us to decide.
And what we decide probably says a lot about us as people. Do we see him as an "angel," a freak show to poke, prod, and exploit? Or do we see him as a "great-grandfather" and "old man," someone to be pitied and cared for?
We know very little about the old man, but we know that he doesn't speak Spanish (presumably the language of the village). He does seem to speak some Nordic dialect, maybe Norwegian, and sings sailor songs: "Then they dared speak to him, and he answered in an incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor's voice" (2).
He's one of the strangest strangers to ever come to town.
His foreignness causes almost all of the problems in the story. He can't communicate with the townspeople, or explain himself. Besides that, he has no ties to anyone, so no one really feels responsible for treating him well.
The angel isn't really a fully developed character. Since he never talks, never really does anything, and since we never get any insight into his motivations, we can't really know much about him. But he does let everyone show their true colors. Who's greedy? Who's cruel? Who's legalistic? The townspeople's reactions to the angel reveal a lot about their characters.
A Guardian Angel?
There's just one more person we want to think about. Could it be that this guy is really a guardian angel?
We don't know what he wants or why he's landed here, but he does seem to have a connection with Elisenda and Pelayo's child. Think about it: the baby's fever breaks when the angel lands, and he flies away when the child starts school several years later. We're not talking halo and pretty pink dress, but this guy does seem to have a special connection to the kid.The Very Old Man's Timeline