Archetypes in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

In this article you will learn about the archetypes in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which contains examples of various archetypes commonly seen in literature throughout the ages.

What are the Archetypes in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings?

In this work Marquez has subverted some of literature’s most common archetypes.

For example, the angel archetype in most literature is one of a healing individual with magical powers who comes willingly to people to help heal them or to give them counsel.

However, Marquez’ angel is somewhat different from this archetype – his angelic powers are stifled, some do not instantly recognise him for what he is and he is unwilling/unable to communicate with those around him.

This both creates and challenges the angel archetype which is common in literature. The angel can also be seen as an archetypal outcast, shunned by society and living in isolation from it, despite the many things that he has to offer.

The archetype of pilgrimage is also found in the work but again Marquez subverts this.

Most archetypal pilgrimages in literature are journeys of religious commitment and devotion, self-sacrifice and faith.

However, in this work Marquez depicts the crowds who come on pilgrimage to see both the angel and the spider woman as doing so entirely for selfish and superficial ends.

The central protagonists of the story, Pelayo and Elisenda, would ordinarily be archetypal heroic characters with many positive qualities.

However, here Marquez has subverted the archetype and made the protagonists less than heroic. They act only in their own interests in their treatment of the angel, seeing only what he could do for them, rather than looking to help another in need as a true hero would. In this sense they embody the shadow hero rather than the archetypal literary hero which protagonists so often are.

Their child is the archetypal innocent, young and pure at heart, totally reliant on those around for support and nurturing, seeing the world through inquisitive and naive eyes.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings Book Summary

  • After days of rain, crabs infest the house of Pelayo and wife Elisenda, making a smell they believe is making their baby ill.
  • On returning from throwing the crabs into the sea Pelayo finds an old man with wings laying in mud in his courtyard.
  • They examine the man, who is dressed in rags, dirty and speaks a strange language. They believe him a castaway from a shipwreck but their neighbour tells them he is an angel.
  • By the following day news has spread around the town of the man with wings.
  • Pelayo keeps him captive in their chicken coop. The rain stops and their baby begins to recover.
  • The couple want to send the man to sea with a supply of food and water then let nature take care of him but find a crowd gathered around the chicken coop. The crowd berates them for treating him poorly.
  • The priest, Father Gonzaga, visits the ‘angel’.
  • The crowd theorises that the angel should be “leader of the world,” or “a military leader in order to win all wars”.
  • Gonzaga speaks to him in Latin to determine if he really is an angel. He does not understand Latin and this, along with the priest’s belief that he looks too human, makes him decide that he is not an angel.
  • However, the crowd persist in their beliefs, continuing to travel to Pelayo’s house to see the angel. He builds a fence and charges admission. The audiences poke the angel with hot irons when he won’t respond and he reacts in anger.
  • A carnival arrives in town with a woman transformed into a spider and people lose interest in the angel.
  • Pelayo and Elisenda have, however, become rich enough to build a mansion.
  • When their child is old enough to go to school the chicken coop is destroyed and the man moves into the shed but becomes very ill.
  • Despite this, he survives through winter and gains strength.
  • One day, Elsenda sees him trying to fly. After a few failures he succeeds in flying away. Elisenda is relieved “for herself and for him”.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings Archetype Examples

  • Angel
  • Shadow angel
  • Outcast
  • Innocent
  • Hero
  • Shadow hero
  • Protagonist
  • Pilgrimage

Want more literary archetypes?

Go check out our extensive list of archetypes in literature to find out more about the characters seen in literature throughout the ages.

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