Blessings in Disguise or Ungrateful Hearts?
When we are children, we always want more and we want it our way. Children rarely say thank you for the things they receive, and they do not realize the sacrifices people make for them. They are naive in the ways of the world and blind to true blessings. As we grow older, we experience more of the world and suddenly we consider ourselves adults, responsible and independent. But are we really any different than children; have we truly grown up? Gabriel Marquez would argue no, that it is human nature to have childish tendencies. In his intricate story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” subtly subtitled “A Tale for Children,” Marquez attempts to bring light to our constant childish failure in seeing all of the blessings that are right before our eyes.
Marquez conveys this message by telling a story about exactly what the title implies – a very old man with enormous wings. The story starts off in Pelayo’s household, where immediately the reader can sense the family’s despair and misery. It has been raining for three days nonstop and crabs have taken refuge in Pelayo and Elisenda’s home, creating considerable stench and causing their newborn child to fall deathly ill. Pelayo’s family is at rock bottom. Their small house has become a graveyard for crabs; their once beautiful world and beach they live on has become “a stew of mud and rotten shellfish.” With the state Pelayo’s family is in, they see very little hope. All of this changes, however, with one mysterious man, a very old rough looking man with enormous buzzard wings. Although the man’s arrival turns their world sunny and hopeful again, they are oblivious to the blessings they have received, and their hearts are ungrateful and uncaring towards him. This is often the case in the real world as well. We take no notice of our blessings, even when they are staring us in the face.
The first sign of Pelayo and Elisenda being blind to the miracle that has fallen in their backyard is how they respond when the man speaks to them in an “incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor’s voice.” Quite quickly, without even making an effort to understand the old man, “they skip over the inconvenience of the wings and quite intelligently conclude that he is a lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm.” They mark the old man, perhaps because of his unsightly appearance and ungraceful entrance, as a vagabond, with only the oddity of having wings. A neighbor woman, however, labels the man an angel; not an angel who has come to do miracles, but rather an angel who has come to take the life of Pelayo and Elisenda’s sick child. Her advice, “to club him to death,” is perhaps startling to many readers but is received nonchalantly by those who, like Pelayo and Elisenda, no longer trust, believe in, or even perceive the presence of miracles.
Neither the old man’s nor the child’s death ever occurs because soon after the angel’s arrival, the Pelayo family receives their first two blessings. In the middle of the night the rain stops, and that very morning the child awakes a healthy baby. Already, their world is greatly improved. Shortly after these miracles occur and the angel has stirred talk and gained attention throughout the town, Elisenda “gets the idea of fencing in the yard and charging five cents admission to see the angel.” Thus, not only have they not given the angel thanks, but they have begun to treat him like a circus attraction. Despite this, the angel continues to be generous and lenient, and in less than a week Pelayo and Elisenda “cram their rooms with money.” Another miracle has happened, but the family does not notice and assume they have received all of this because of their own doing rather than the angel’s blessing. Once again, we see the tendency of human nature through this family. So often when we receive blessings, we think of them as self-obtained, and rather than giving praise to God, we only praise ourselves.
The town soon forgets about the angel, and all of their attention is turned to newer carnival attractions. By this time, Pelayo has made enough money to build “a two-story mansion with balconies and gardens and high netting so that crabs won’t get in during the winter.” Another miracle has occurred, but even with their new fortune, the angel soon becomes in their eyes an even bigger nuisance to the family. Sometime later, after living like an animal with the family, the angel begins to act strangely and grows stiff feathers, until one day he takes flight. The family says no goodbyes or thanks to the angel; instead Elisenda lets out a sigh of relief and “keeps watching until it is no longer possible for her to see him, because then he is no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.”
It is easy to read this story and be amazed at how Pelayo’s family could treat the angel with such disdain after all he does for the family. But if we look at this story on a deeper level, in terms of the metaphor Marquez intended it to be, we are more likely to acknowledge that we often behave in ways very similar to the family. Pelayo’s family behaves like children, naïve to how special the angel truly is and ungrateful for all of their problems being solved. Blessings do not always come dressed in radiant finery and clearly announcing themselves; sometimes they come humbly disguised just as the angel in this story does; but that does not mean they are any less apparent to those inclined to perceive them. Everyone has something to be thankful for, yet we are often too distracted by worldly things and our own self-righteousness to remember how important it is to give thanks for what we have. That is human nature, but it does not have to be that way. If we examine our hearts and lives, we will see all of our flaws as well as the things we have to be thankful for. No blessing should go unnoticed as the angel in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” does.