April 21, 2021
Up for Interpretation
“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez about a disheveled man with angel-like wings that appears in a couple’s yard. In the story, Marquez portrays how there are a mix of reactions to the appearance of the old man. Some people view him as an angel that can cure maladies, while other’s view him as a disgusting old man. Marquez uses these mixed reactions to tie in themes of health and medicine, as in the medical world, many different treatments and therapies are viewed and interpreted differently. Many people interpret these treatments differently as there are some that support the treatments, while there are also those that are skeptical. Marquez includes these elements in his story to highlight that nothing is set in stone, and everything is up for interpretation.
In the story, it is seen that people are optimists and view the old man as an angel when Marquez writes, “The most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health” (Marquez 2). Here, it is talked about how there are many different people with many different problems that come to see the “angel” in hopes that he could cure them. Marquez included this part of optimism to relate it to real world concepts of health and medicine. In the today’s world, many people find hope in medical practices and remedies, even though success is not guaranteed. This can be seen when there are cancer patients who find hope in chemotherapy, patients with fatal injuries who find hope in surgeries and blood transfusions, and even in the COVID 19 pandemic, some people find hope with vaccine. In the story, it is also seen how the “angel” had not been able to live up to the hopes of the people when Marquez writes, “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” (Marquez 3). Despite all the hopes invested in the “angel”, he could not always produce the right results. This is sadly also seen in today’s world of medicine, as remedies don’t always cure the intended ailment, such as chemotherapy not always working for cancer. Marquez even writes, “The angel was the only one who took no part in his own act.” (Marquez 2) The use of the word “act” to describe what the “angel” is doing is a literal interpretation, but it can also allude to a meaning connected to problems with his “healing properties”. The word indicates that perhaps the “angel” is more of a placebo for people, and his actual effects are minuscule. With this connection between health and medicine and the interpretation of the “angel”, Marquez leaves the readers in a gray area. Marquez doesn’t encourage the blind hopefulness in potential remedies, yet he also doesn’t encourage the complete abandonment of hope in a remedy. The intended take away of this gray area seems to be that one should find the gray area when finding their own interpretation.
On the other side of the spectrum, there were people who viewed the old man with angel-like wings as a disgusting old man. Even though he literally is described by Marquez as an old man, those who viewed him as such chose to not have any hopefulness for what he could bring about. The pessimism for the old man can be seen when Marquez writes, “he 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” (Marquez 2). Here, through the use of repeated repulsive adjectives, Marquez is able to portray how some of the people viewed him as nothing more than a disgusting old man. Throughout the short story, Marquez writes about actions of doubt by the people when viewing the man, such as, “or whether he wasn’t just a Norwegian with wings.” (Marquez 3) Language like this describes how the people are constantly doubting and testing a potential miracle right in front of them. This is a natural part of human behavior, but to some degree it can turn out to be detrimental. Marquez includes these people in the story because they are reflected in the world of health and medicine. In the world of health and medicine, the people that interpret medicine and treatments as bad only because of potential uncertainties or negatives are represented by the people that only saw the man as a man. These people choose the negatives over the potential positives and stick with it. A possible interpretation of Marquez’s choice for adding this concept is that these people didn’t even receive the unintended remedies from the old man, so by not giving something a chance, those people miss out.
In Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” Marquez writes about various aspects of people that see the man with wings to relate them to people in the real world and their regards to medicine. When relating these people, Marquez includes various aspects of human behavior and how that impacts the interpretation of something that’s in front of them. This relation is significant as it shows how even for the oddest phenomena, there are many different possibilities for interpretations of it, and each one can have its own good or bad outcomes.
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Creative Commons License (for picture of bird)
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