Even if you strip out all the supernatural woo-woo, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" sends a pretty clear message: be nice to old people. Even though the angel is an amazing, fantastic being, with wings—wings!—and probably lots of cool stories to tell, no one cares. Once the reality of his baldness and toothlessness sets in, he's just a burden. In fact, Elisenda doesn't even appreciate him until he's gone. We might even go so far as to say that his wings could represent the incredible gift of surviving to old age—and the way that it can be more of a burden than a blessing. Grandpa Simpson can relate.
Questions About Old Age
How does the angel's age affect the way people treat him? How would the story be different if it were about a newborn baby with wings? A cute little putto?
Does the way the old man is treated have anything to do with the way the elderly are treated in our society (even the ones without wings)?
The angel is able to fly away again at the end of the story. Could he be more than just a very old man, after all?
Chew on This
The way the townspeople treat the old man is a reflection on our society's cruelty toward the elderly.
The old man frightens the townspeople because he reminds them of their own mortality.