Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a short story that fuses together magical and realistic elements. In an interview, Marquez explains the influences and origins of this unique style of writing. The story (not surprisingly) is about an old man with enormous wings who somehow ends up in a small Caribbean or Central American town and the events that surround this occurrence. The story is written in such a way that magical elements appear in a seemingly realistic setting.
The interview with Marquez, although never specifically mentioning the story, provides insight as to how he achieves writing in this oxymoronic style.
Marquez attributes his magical-realistic style of writing to the reciprocal relationship between novels and journalism. Marquez says that his “…true profession is that of a journalist (131.” This background in journalism helps keep his writing in “…a close relationship with reality (137).” Marquez further states that trying to “transpose” reality can lead to losing contact with it and journalism is a good guard against that.
As a journalist Gabriel Garcia Marquez believes that writing is hard work that requires a certain technique with structure and careful attention to detail. Marquez also describes a “journalistic trick (138)” used to make things credible; saying that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants in the sky is much more believable than simply stating there are elephants in the sky. Evidence of this journalistic influence is clearly seen throughout “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and this makes the story seem much more believable.
Another important aspect of Marquez’s writing is his use of vivid imagery. He began writing by drawing cartoons and in “… the genesis of all [his] books there’s always an image (143),” such as a photograph. Gabriel Garcia Marquez visited his hometown and he experienced it as everything in the town evolved into literature. Marquez follows by saying that “it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told (136).” Writing on his birthplace adds a sense of realism and imagery to the story. Marquez also gives credit to his grandmother’s “brick face” style of story telling as an influence to his writing. “She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness (138).” The combination of these elements adds to the authenticity and colorfulness of Marquez’s stories.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez explains, in his interview, the importance of the first paragraph as setting the tone for the rest of the story. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is no exception. The story begins with a reference to Marquez’s fascination with plagues as he describes an abundance of crabs after three days of rain. Marquez continues by saying that “the world had been sad since Tuesday. Sea and Sky were a single ash-gray thing…” This is an example of the aforementioned journalistic trick which makes the sadness more believable.
There is a convergence with the interview when Marquez says that every Mexican he sees in Europe leaves the following Wednesday, as opposed to any other day. The “ash-gray” description also provides a vivid image of the sea and sky. The first paragraph ends with an introduction of the old man, “…impeded by his enormous wings.” This does indeed set the tone for the rest of the story with detailed descriptions, sharp imagery and the magical-realistic elements are introduced.
The story continues with a detailed, precise, and unconventional description of an angel. Word about the angel gets out, and many people come to see him, including the Priest, Father Gonzaga. There is evidence, in the beginning of the story that the setting is in a small Caribbean or Central America town, such as the one Marquez grew up in. Statements like “…everyone knew…”, “neighbor women” and referring to the priest as Father Gonzaga give the image of a small Spanish-speaking town. The credibility of the winged man as an angel is questioned in the story by Father Gonzaga. The visiting people torture and test the patience of the angel.
Eventually, a carnival took the attention away from him, including a “…woman who had been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents (572),” another example of the journalistic trick. An example of the brick faced story telling appears when things return to the “…time it had rained for three days and crabs walked through the bedroom (573).” The paragraph simply ends here, with something completely fantastical told as if it were completely normal. The keepers of the angel profit at the angel’s expense until people no longer care to see him and eventually the angel regains his strength and flies away ungracefully.
The interview did not specifically address “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and therefore it was not useful in understanding the story nor did it take anything away from it. The interview was, however, effective and useful in understanding how Marquez can effectively write in such a unique style. The way the story seems to be so believable yet at the same time so fantastical is explained. If I could ask Gabriel Garcia Marquez another question, I would like to know more about what he meant by the “intellectual writing” and more on the influence of politics in his writing. Being a Marxist, how did this affect the non-traditional representation of the angel? I found that, in general, the interview provided helpful insight on what makes Marquez’s magical-realistic writing so vivid and believable.
Stone, Peter H. An interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Unknown date and publisher.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” The Story and it’s Writer. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s ., 2003.