Study Guide

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings The Supernatural

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The Supernatural

Frightened by that nightmare, Pelayo ran to get Elisenda, his wife, who was putting compresses on the sick child, and he took her to the rear of the courtyard. (2)

Pelayo's first reaction to the supernatural presence is it's not real at all, just a nightmare. So, we know immediately that Pelayo is kind of wimpy and not as hardcore as his wife. Sorry, dude.

His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud. (2)

This image of the man's wings, his main supernatural attribute, literally brings the supernatural (dude with wings) down to earth (dude with wings covered in mud). This is basically the opposite of what you'd expect of an angelic vision.

"He's an angel," she told them. "He must have been coming for the child, but the poor fellow is so old that the rain knocked him down." (3)

The neighbor woman reveals the common belief that an angel of death comes for the sick, dying, or otherwise doomed—that, or maybe she just really was sick of hearing the baby crying all night. And check out how the supernatural (angel) mixes with the totally mundane (an angel who is so old that the rain can knock him out of the sky).

Against the judgment of the wise neighbor woman, for whom angels in those times were the fugitive survivors of a celestial conspiracy, they did not have the heart to club him to death. (4)

The neighbor woman has some pretty wild ideas about the supernatural, and Pelayo and Elisenda have to mix their earthly decency with her celestial conspiracy theories.

But when they went out into the courtyard with the first light of dawn, they found the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the angel, without the slightest reverence, tossing him things to eat through the openings in the wire as if he weren't a supernatural creature but a circus animal. (4)

If you need an example of how not to treat a celestial visitor—or just a run-of-the-mill stranger—look no further. The way the crowd treats the angel in this scene is exactly the attitude the story portrays and criticizes. It's as though people are incapable of recognizing the fantastic possibility of having an angel among them. Instead, they just treat him like a freak show.

Standing by the wire, [Father Gonzaga] reviewed his catechism in an instant and asked them to open the door so that he could take a close look at that pitiful man who looked more like a huge decrepit hen among the fascinated chickens. (4)

The priest uses his catechism like a weapon here, one that will protect him from the mystery of the old man. (What's a catechism? In this context, it's a series of questions and answers that summarizes Roman Catholic beliefs—and we're pretty sure that almost no Catholics believe that it confers any magic-resistance powers.)

Then [Father Gonzaga] noticed that seen close up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels. (5)

We're getting right down to it now: people expect beauty and hygiene from their supernatural beings, not pesky, mundane problems like BO and fleas.

His only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience. Especially during the first days, when the hens pecked at him, searching for the stellar parasites that proliferated in his wings, and the cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing. (8)

The angel is assumed to be a supernatural being because of his wings (pretty good assumption), but he doesn't really do anything, well, supernatural to prove that he's anything special. He just acts like an ordinary, helpless old man. And, like a lot of ordinary and helpless old men, he gets abused.

While still practically a child she had sneaked out of her parents' house to go to a dance, and while she was coming back through the woods after having danced all night without permission, a fearful thunderclap rent the sky in two and through the crack came the lightning bolt of brimstone that changed her into a spider. (10)

Here's our second glimpse of the supernatural. But the question is—is this lady really supernatural? Or is she just a hoax?

Besides, the few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder, like the blind man who didn't recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn't get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers. (10)

The people who come to the angel to cure their ailments don't exactly get what they came for. The supernatural shows up in comical ways in their "cures," suggesting that the angel isn't what they make him out to be. At the same time, they do suggest that there's something supernatural going on. Are we supposed to believe that the leper's sores "sprouted sunflowers"? And what kind of blessing is "almost" winning the lottery?

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