The title refers to the angel in the story and how he made such a difference in the life of a small town couple. Marquez injects a great dose of whimsy by portraying his angel as an old man, frail and seemingly defenceless, except that he had very large wings.
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This depiction of an angel added a sense of absurdity to the story since it goes against the popular renderings of angels as young, handsome and well built. Marquez depicted him as the complete opposite of what we consider as a stereotypical angel.
This work by Gabriel Garcia Marquez has many magical aspects to it. The angel is, of course, the central magical aspect of the story. The way the child was healed of fever after the old angel’s arrival, or the blind man that grew three teeth and the paralytic who nearly won the lottery can be considered as coincidences. The magical thing about the angel was the leper who grew sunflowers in his sores. Of course the angel itself is magical; you will not see a winged old man everyday. That an angel exists at all is itself magical. Another magical aspect of the story is the girl who was turned into a spider for disobedience. A tarantula the size of goat with a girl’s head is definitely magical as it is out of the ordinary. And at the end, we are treated to the magic of the old man learning to soar effortlessly again and depart the family and community he had affected for all time.
On the other hand, the real aspect of the story is how people treated the angel. Here, Marquez indulges his penchant for social commentary, in this case about how communities cope with change. Knowing that they had an angel in their hands, the crowd treated it like a circus freak and did all sorts of horrible acts to it out of ignorance. The acts can be considered a form of discrimination: just because the angel looked different, it was treated awfully.
The way the couple acted was also very real. After the angel’s presence enriched them and made their lives better, what do they do? They treated him like filth; they considered him a menace, an old and useless man with a foul stench. They did not even think for a minute that the angel had done so much for them.
Another reality in the story was the priest and his skepticism about the angel. Such skepticism can often impede us from doing the right thing. He is a priest for a reason and that reason is faith. In a religious milieu such as the author depicts, the faithful need to believe if only the clergy will give them “permission.”
Yet another reality the story shows us is the way people acted. “Moving on to the next big thing” as we call it, the crowd went from one freak to another. Just like in real life, people move from one thing to another without considering the consequences or how the people involved felt.
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The first thing noticeable in the author’s writing style is the way he mixed reality with magic. This style is called “magic realism” because of the way he combined reality and magic so well that it becomes hard to distinguish between fiction and reality. The elements of the story were so well used that the impossible became plausible. The way the author wrote the story made it look like the encounters in the story were as ordinary as breathing. Marquez wrote it in such a way that he succeeds in making readers suspend disbelief. Because of the way he wrote the story the author was able to stretch the story into boundless limits; despite being magical, the story never loses touch with reality. To this end, the author supplies incredible detail to the setting of the story so much so that one can visualise the chicken coop or a poor old man being derided by the crowd. Such realism stood in stark contrast to, but magnified, the imaginary factors in the story. He wrote it in such a way that readers are inclined to think that these kinds of things can really happen and this is the aspect of his style worth applauding. Because of this, the story is distinct from fairy tales like Peter Pan or Cinderella because “Old Man…” holds up a mirror to us all, asking how we would ourselves behave in the face of irreconcilable dilemmas.
Marquez, Gabriel G. (2003) “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”