Essay, Research Paper
An Analysis of A Tale for Children
Symbolism is often used to subtlely enhance a story’s meaning by adding emphasis and details to the story line. However, Garcia-Marquez, in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, cloaks his tale for children in a dreamlike quality conveyed purely through symbolism. Clues to his intended meaning can be drawn from the old winged man whom the story revolves around, from the metamorphous of the family who take him in, and from outsiders’ reaction to this phenomenon.
The old winged man symbolizes those that are different and perhaps alien. He also represents those who are unable to contribute in any traditional form. The story opens during a four day storm as Pelayo and his wife Elisenda are removing the crabs washed in by the storm and throwing them into the sea when they discover the old man with wings embedded in the earth of their courtyard. They are unsure of what to make of him. He appears to be very old and harmless, but taking no chances they secure him in the chicken coop. The old winged man shows no concern for the visitors who upon hearing news of his existence flock to see this freakish show. In fact, the old man is characterized throughout the story by his indifference toward the people and events that occur. When Father Gonzaga arrives to pass judgement on whether the old man is an angel, he finds him “lying in a corner drying his open wings among the fruit peels and breakfast leftovers…thrown him”(442). When the Father entered the coop and said good morning in Latin the old man “alien to the impertinence’s of the world, …only lifted his antiquarian eyes and murmured something in his dialect”(442). The old man’s only supernatural virtue seems to be that of patience but as the years pass, this virtue is re-labeled to be the “patience of a dog” (444). Even the miracles he is credited with lack merit and “were more like mocking fun”(444). The wings seem to allude that he is not long for this world.
Upon discovering the angel Pelayo and Elisenda reveal a common fear held by humanity– that of the unknown. This fear is overcome when they looked at him so long and so closely that “…they overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar”(441). The arrival of the angel disrupts the family’s daily routines and threatens their home. As news of the captive angel spread, the curious overwhelm the courtyard: “…they had to call in troops…to disperse the mob that was about to knock the house down”(442). Elisenda’s conception of charging the inquisitive for a peek at the angel brought great wealth to the family. With this wealth Pelayo exchanges his position as bailiff, guarding dangerous criminals for that of running a rabbit warren, guarding the gentlest of creatures. Meanwhile, Elisenda becomes a lady of high social status. As days turn into years Pelayo and Elisenda accept the angel’s presence, but yet do not wish to repeat the experience. This fact is evidenced in the design of their mansion: “…high netting so that crabs wouldn’t get in…and with iron bars on the windows so that angels wouldn’t get in”(444). Throughout the years the angel lives with the family, the sickly infant is strengthened into a healthy schoolboy. This young boy is the only one who never knows the angel to be foreign, and therefore truly accepts him. The bond between them is so close that they even share chickenpox.
The story’s participants from outside the nucleus household include the wise neighbor, Father Gonzaga, and the Spider woman. The wise neighbor called in by Pelayo and Elisenda at the discovery of the old man is responsible for the angel label. This wise woman represents superstitious beliefs. She believed “…angels in those times were the fugitive survivors of a celestial conspiracy…” and advised Pelayo and Elisenda to “club him to death”(441). Father Gonqaga and his correspondence with the church symbolize the inability of the church to shed any light on the situation or to arrive at any definitive answer as to the nature of the winged old man. The church is incapable of providing any guidance to the people. The Father’s attempts to receive enlightenment from his superiors were confounded by questions such as “…how many times he could fit on the head of a pin”(443). The mob drawn to the angel also drew those with unexplainable
maladies seeking a cure, like the “…man who couldn’t sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him…”(442). Throughout the story these extraordinary events are accepted as normal. The monstrosity who finally outdoes the angel and steals his limelight is the woman who as a child had sneaked from her house to go to a dance and on her return was turned into a frightful tarantula by a lightning strike. This spider woman, “…full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson…” holds such an evident moral lesson that appeals to the people (443).
The heavy use of symbolism in this story can be difficult to interpret into a moral lesson and as confusing to the reader as the angel was to the people who flocked to see him. A tale such as the spider woman’s is easily followed. Perhaps Garcia-Marques is holding up a mirror shrouded in symbolism to display to us the perceptions held by society to those different than us. In that case, the child in this tale for children is the only character unbiased in his perception of the old winged man, which may explain Marques’ choice of the subtitle “A Tale for Children”. Regardless, the rich texture created through the elaborate use of symbolism carries its own weight. A clear moral is not necessary for the enjoyment of this story.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Carl e. Bain, Jerome Beaty, J. Paul Hunter. Sixth Edition. New York: Norton 1995. 440-445.