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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings || Compulsory English Grade 12 || Literature Short Story


A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings || Compulsory English Grade 12 || Literature Short Story

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

(A Tale for Children)


Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Before Reading:

Discuss the following questions.

a. Have you ever visited a place to see something strange or unusual? If yes, what is it?

b. How do clever people take advantage of common people's gullibility?


About the Writer:

v  Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in 1927 and died in 2014,

v  A Colombian born Spanish American journalist, novelist, and short story writer,

v  Known as the literary volcano of 1960s,

v  Known as a new narrative style called magical realism/marvelous realism- realistic view of the world with magical elements or combination between supernatural/magical and real elements, or real and fantastic elements or natural and supernatural elements,

v  His novel 'One Hundred of Years of Solitude' published in 1967 is known as an example of classical magical realism,

v  He is taken as a synonymous of magical realism,

v  His best known novels are:

o   No One Writes to the Colonel (1961)

o   Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)

o   memories of my Melancholy Whore (2004)


About the Story:

v  The Story 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' having a subtitle 'A Tale for Children' is a short story by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez,

v  This story was written and published in 1968 in Spanish Language and published in English in 1971,

v  This is a magical realist story that examines the human response to those who are weak, dependent, and different, and also shows human-nature related curiosity, greed and cruelty,



1.   Pelayo: Pelayo is the father of the child and Elisenda’s husband. He discovers the old man in his backyard.


2.   Elisenda: Pelayo's wife and mother of his child. It is Elisenda who comes up with the idea of charging people to see the old man and ultimately is the last to see him before he takes off.


3.   The Old Man: The subject of much debate and the target of the townsfolk’s' relentless prodding. The mystery of the old man's existence and history goes unresolved. He first appears in the backyard of Pelayo's house after three days of rain, weak and mud-covered. The family accompanies him into the chicken coop where he is held as a sort of sideshow attraction. When the crowds first start to come around, he is forgetful and patient with the suffering. Later, the crowds burn him with a branding iron and he flaps his wings in pain. In the end, he grows back all of his feathers and flies away. The old man is described many times throughout as having "antiquarian" or rare eyes.


4.   Father Gonzaga: Father Gonzaga is the town priest and the authority figure of the town. He is described as having been "a robust woodcutter" before becoming a priest. Father Gonzaga suspects the old man is an fraud because he doesn't know Latin, the language of God. He then contacts the Church and awaits verdict from higher authority.


5.   The Neighbor: The Neighbor is said to know everything about life and death. She thinks that the Old Man is an angel who has fallen from the sky and came for Pelayo's son. While her advice for clubbing the Old Man is not taken, she still attempts to help her neighbors Pelayo and Elisenda.


6.   Spider Woman: The Spider Woman essentially comes and takes the Old Man's fame. She was a child who crept out of her parent's house one night to go to a dance. After disobeying her parents, she was transformed into a tarantula with the head of a woman. The people forget about the Old Man and focus their interest on her. In contrast to the Old Man, who does not talk or move much, she is always open to tell her story, so the villagers abandon the Old Man when she comes. The Spider Woman is attractive to the visitors because she is a relatable character who has been against some struggle as opposed to the seemingly cold and alien Old Man.


7. The Child: The child is Pelayo and Elisenda's newborn baby, who is ill when the story opens. The Neighbor tries to tell the family that the Old Man came to take the baby. The Old Man and the child are somewhat connected. They are ill at the same time and play together.




The narrative opens with a man named Pelayo killing crabs that had been washed into his house by torrential rains over three days. The crabs are emitting a foul odor, which is thought to be making their infant unwell. The crabs are thrown into the sea by him. While returning home from the water, Pelayo discovers that something else has washed up in the muddy yard: an old guy who is unable to stand due to his gigantic with broken wings. Pelayo dashes inside to find his wife Elisenda, who is tending to their ailing newborn son. The old man is "dressed like a ragpicker," with "just a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth," Pelayo and Elisenda observe. When they speak to him, his wings are coming apart and unclean, and he responds in a language they don't comprehend. Despite their conclusion that he is a shipwrecked foreign sailor, they confer with their next-door neighbor, an elderly woman who claims that the old guy is an angel sent to take their ailing child. She claims the angel was victimized by the storm because he is so old, and she advises them to suffocate him, but they refuse.


Pelayo and Elisenda, on the other hand, drag the man into the chicken coop and lock him inside. Their child's health improves the next morning, so they decide to send the angel away on a raft with food and provisions. The word of the angel, on the other hand, has spread, and soon the entire neighborhood has come to see him. While the rest of the community speculates on the angel's mission on Earth, a priest named Father Gonzaga examines the angel and speaks Latin with him. Although Gonzaga writes to religious officials for advice, he himself concludes the old man is a fraud and warns the neighbors not to believe the fantasy.


Pelayo and Elisenda decide to charge admission to visit the caged angel, and sick people go from all over the world to see him in the hopes of being healed. The angel does not communicate with the audience, who hurl food and stones at him in an attempt to elicit a response. When the man tearfully flaps his wings at them, the mob begins to brand him as an animal, and they become terrified.

Other carnival performers arrive in town while Gonzaga waits for word from religious authority in Rome. A gigantic spider with a woman's head is among them, claiming that her current form is punishment for defying her parents. Because she communicates and engages with the audience, she is more interesting to the audience than the angel; as a result, no one comes to see the old guy.


Pelayo and Elisenda spend their earnings on renovating their home and living a lavish lifestyle. As their child grows older, he begins to play near the angel, who only tolerates him. The angel appears to grow older and weaker as the son enters school, and Elisenda finds him increasingly bothersome as he wanders the house. The couple expects him to die shortly, but he recovers after that winter. As he gains strength, his wings acquire more feathers and he sings. Elisenda observes from the kitchen window one morning as the man tries to take flight. He eventually succeeds and takes off. Elisenda stares into the empty sky, relieved that he is no longer there.


Understanding the text 

Answer the following questions.

a.   How does the narrator describe the weather and its effects in the exposition of the story?

Ans:- The story begins with the Pelayo couple killing so many crabs that entered into the house due to continuous rain for three days, on the third day. The stench of the crabs caused their new born baby sick that's why Pelayo goes to the sea to throw the dead crabs into the sea. It looks sad because the sea and the sky look like a single ash gray thing, the sands of the beach is glittering like powered light, has become muddy and covered with rotten shellfish.



b.   Describe the strange old man as Pelayo and his wife first encounter within their courtyard.

Ans:- In the beginning of the story after dumping the dead crabs into the sea, Pelayo and his wife Elisenda encounter a strange old man. He was moving and groaning in the rear of the courtyard lying his face down in the mud. He was dressed like a ragpicker, had few faded hairs left on his bald skull, and had very few teeth in his mouth. He had huge buzzard wings that were dirty and half plucked. He looked as if he was lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm.

c.   Why did Pelayo and Elisenda imprison the old man in the chicken coop?

Ans:- When a neighbor woman said that he might be an angel and must have come to take their sick child Pelayo and Elisenda imprisoned the old man in the chicken coop to prevent him taking their child to heaven.


d.   Why was Father Gonzaga not sure about the old man being a celestial messenger?

      Ans:- When Father Gonzaga heard about the strange creature, a human like creature having two enormous wings he came at Pelayo's house. To examine if he was an angle, he went into the chicken coop and greeted him 'good morning' in Latin. He suspected him of an imposter because he didn't understand the language of the God i.e. Latin. He even didn't know how to greet to His ministers furthermore the man was spreading an unbearable odor; back side of his wings was strewn with parasites. He didn't find any dignity of angels in him so Father Gonzaga was not sure that the old man being a celestial messenger.


e. Many people gathered at Pelayo's house to see the strange old man. Why do you think the crowd assembled to see him?

Ans:- Many people gathered at Pelayo's house to see the strange old man because he was a human like creature having two enormous wings on his back. He was old and wicked having an ugly appearance. The old man was entrapped in a chicken coop. He looked as if he was an animal showed in a circus. The crowd assembled to see him because of his mysterious appearance. He looked like a half human and a half vulture like creature. And the most attracting thing about him was that some miraculous things happened in the crowd people.


f.    Some miracles happened while the crowd gathers to see the strange man. What are these miracles?

When people gathered to see the strange old man confined in a chicken coop, some miraculous things happened to them such as three new teethe were grown to a blind man who had lost his sight, a paralytic person who was unable to walk won the lottery and sunflowers were sprouted on the shores of a leper.


g.   State the irritating things that the people did with the strange old man.

The irritating things that the people did with the strange old man are: some people pulled his feathers, threw stones at him, poked him with a branding iron, and burnt him because the old man didn’t respond to them. At last being aggressive in pain, he flapped his wings.


h.   How and why was the woman changed into a spider?

The woman was changed into a spider after she was hit with the lightning bolt of brimstone that came through the crack of the tow of the fearful thunderclap in the sky. She was transfigured into a scary tarantula while she is returning home after dancing is because of her disobey to her parents.  


i.    Describe how Elisenda saw the strange man flying over the houses.

Elisenda was the first person to see the old my flying over the houses while she was cutting some onions for lunch. At first she senses a wind coming in from the high seas and she ran to the window from where she observed the enormous winged old man trying to flapping for his flight. It was difficult at first, but later he few in the sky over the houses and faraway above the sea in the sky he looked like a dot and then disappeared. His departure from that house was like a miraculous thing as his appearance in the backyard of their house.


 Reference to the Context 

a.   The arrival of a strange old man at Pelayo’s courtyard arouses many suspicions and explanations. Explain how the neighbour woman, Father Gonzaga and the doctor speak of the strange man. Why do you think these three people give three different kinds of interpretations?

The appearance of a peculiar elderly man in Pelayo's courtyard sparks a veer of questions and theories. According to the neighbor woman who knew everything about life and death, he was an angel who must have come for the infant, but he was knocked down by the rain due to his old age. Father Gonzaga, the parish priest, doubted the old angel because he couldn't grasp God's language or sense his servants. He urged others against being ingenious to avoid the risks of being interested since his fragile feathers smelled like the odor. The doctor noticed a whistling sound in his heart and kidneys, suggesting that he was not living, and he was surprised to find his natural wings, which he pondered why others didn't have. The weird old man is characterized variously by the doctor, the neighbor woman, and Father Gonzaga. These three individuals, in my opinion, gave three distinct reasons for the unusual old man's appearance and activities, which were entirely unlike those of the real world. He had wings and spoke in an unintelligible language.

b.   This story belongs to the genre of ‘magical realism’, a genre perfected by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novels and short stories. Magical realism is a narrative technique in which the story-teller narrates the common place things with magical colour and the events look both magical and real at the same time. Collect five magic realist happenings from the story and argue why they seem magical to you.


This story belongs to the genre of 'magical realism,' a genre perfected by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novels and short stories. For example, the title "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" portrays the old man as a magical character or a being from a mythical world. Magic but realistic happenings in the story includes: Pelayo’s sight of a strange old man with enormous wings. It is magical in the sense that humans in this physical world do not have wings. The man is like a mythical or celestial creature since it looked strange and had wings which no ordinary humans possess. The language he spoke was strange and intangible to common people. The second magical happening is that the arrival of the old man equals with the cure of sick child. The old neighboring woman senses the old man to be an angle that have come to take the child of Pelayo couples newborn son. Angle coming down to take human soul is also magical element in this story. Father Gonzaga senses the old man to be a devil because of his inability to understand the language of god as well as his inability to identify his minister. The man is dangerous because of his unique appearance and warns other people not go close to him. Another magical element found in the story is transformation of a woman into a tarantula as a result of the brimstone lightning bold. The doctor observes the whistling sound in the old man’s heart and kidneys. The old man becomes fine and feathers grow well in his wings, his flight from the house etc., all are the elements of supernatural happenings. That’s why the story is proved to have the elements of ‘Magical Realism’.


c. The author introduces the episode of a woman who became a spider for having disobeyed her parents. This episode at once shifts people’s concentration from the strange old man to the spider woman. What do you think is the purpose of the author to bring this shift in the story?

The author describes the story of a woman who turned into a tarantula after disobeying her parents. People's attention is immediately drawn away from the weird elderly man and toward the spider woman in this episode. I think the author's intention in introducing this change in the story is to demonstrate a magical connection between two separate events. Because the storey has elements of magical realism, the author intends to depict something strange or amazing happening in the world to tie the storey to the world of magical realism. A sense of "magic realism" is provided to the strange old man. He is a Christ figure who depicts humanity's ignorance to beauty and kindness. The Spider-girl appears in the village as part of a traveling carnival display. The major attraction happens to be a spider-girl. The villagers are taken aback. It is far less expensive to watch her, and she entertains the crowd, whereas the bashful angel recoiled from the spotlight. This is more appealing to the general population than an elderly winged figure that looks down on his surroundings. The crowds rapidly shift their attention away from the angel and toward the spider, leaving Pelayo's courtyard empty. The morality narrative of the spider girl, who disobeyed her parents and was turned into a spider by God, was also well welcomed by the crowd. The angel has been almost completely ignored by the crowd. It also claims that individuals prefer fun and entertaining activities to serious pursuits.



d. The story deals with the common people’s gullibility. How do Pelayo and his wife take advantage of common people’s whim?

Pelayo and Elisenda take advantages of the common people’s gullibility in the story. They see an old man with enormous wings in their courtyard and their next door neighbor suspects him to be an angle that has come to take their child. They entrap the man into their chicken coop. The rumor spreads throughout the town and people gather to visit him. When people gather to see the man, Elisenda gets an idea of charging them to have a look at him. They earn lots of money because of curiosity of people to see the strange creature. In such a way they take advantage from the gullible people.


 Reference beyond the text 

a.   An irresistible crowd queues at Pelayo’s house for many days simply to look at the strange old man. Narrate an episode from your experience or from another story where people assemble in crowds, not for any noble cause.

Once our area was affected by severe floods and pouring rain since the past few days, the weather was wild with lightning and thunder storm. The following morning a boy was going for jogging he spotted a bizarre unidentifiable creature. At first he had a gut feeling that was some kind of embryo but later he identified the creature to be an alien. He took the creature at his home and took a snap of that creature and posted on social sites. Many people shared his status. The creature was grey in color, having only one eye and a long elephant like trunk. The creature was immobile, lying flattened on a table at his home. He poked him multiple times. People heard about and gathered to see the creature at his home. When lots of people crowded the house the parents of the boy decided to charge them for having a glimpse of that creature.


b. The taste of children is different from grown-ups. What are the elements in the story that make ‘The Old Man with Enormous Wings’ a children’s story?


      The short story ‘The Old Man with Enormous Wings’ is subtitled ‘A Story for Children’ because of its contents or subject matter. There are lots of elements that make it a children’s story.


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