A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Gabriel García Márquez's A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Gabriel García Márquez

Márquez grew up in Aracataca, Colombia, raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, nicknamed “the Colonel,” was an excellent storyteller and had a big impact on Márquez. After studying law (but not graduating), Márquez began a difficult but rewarding career in journalism, covering La Violencia in Colombia, but also working further afield in Paris and New York. He worked on his fiction alongside his journalism, publishing The Leaf Storm in 1955 and In Evil Hour in 1962. In 1967, he published his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, which was both widely read and critically acclaimed. In 1982, Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, making him the fourth Latin American at the time to receive the honor. In his later years, Márquez divided his time between Mexico City, Havana, and Paris, continuing to write the short stories, novels and non-fiction that brought him great acclaim. After being diagnosed with cancer in 1999, Márquez battled with poor health before eventually succumbing to pneumonia in in 2014. Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, called Márquez “the greatest Colombian who ever lived.”
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Historical Context of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

The fable-like quality of “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” means that the historical and geographical setting is deliberately left relatively undefined. Various critics see it as a comment on La Violencia (the bloody Colombian civil war of the 1940s and 1950s) or the Holocaust, as the story examines the ease with which cruelty can occur in the most mundane places. Much of Márquez’s work relates to La Violencia, which was a civil war between the Colombian Conservative Party and the Colombian Liberal Party, estimated to have cost the lives of some 200,000 people. The fighting took part largely in rural areas, with political leaders and police encouraging impoverished supporters of the Conservative Party to seize land from peasant Liberals. Censorship and reprisals against press reports were common, making Márquez’s initial profession as a journalist all the more challenging and vital.

Other Books Related to A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

This story is an example of magic realism, a writing style for which Márquez is renowned, which combines fantastical elements with the everyday. Other great works of magic realism include Márquez’s own One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), and Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale (1983). There is a long tradition in literature of combining fantasy and realism, and the magic realist mode is indebted to works as varied as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose. This particular story has close parallels with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, in which Gregor Samsa is turned into a giant insect and is subsequently misunderstood and mistreated by those around him. Describing the influence of Kafka’s story on his writing, Márquez said “When I read the [first] line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago.” Márquez is one of the pre-eminent authors of the 20th Century, and he is often listed alongside Jorge Luis Borges as one of the greatest Latin American authors of all time. Márquez also acknowledged that the works of American and European authors had a great influence on him, particularly those of Hemingway, Faulkner, Twain, and Melville from America, and Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka, and Virginia Woolf from Europe. Márquez considered it important for an author to know his or her context, once saying "I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that have gone before."
Key Facts about A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
  • Full Title: A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children
  • Where Written: Bogotá
  • When Published: 1955
  • Literary Period: 20th Century Latin American Fiction
  • Genre: Short Fiction / Magic Realism
  • Setting: A small, nondescript town on the coast of South America
  • Climax: The old man eventually regains strength and flies away
  • Antagonist: Pelayo, Elisando, and the town inhabitants
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient