A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

The Old Man (the Angel) Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, the angel is an old, disheveled man with enormous wings who finds himself facedown in the mud of Pelayo’s courtyard at the beginning of the story. Presumably coming to take Pelayo’s sick child to heaven, the angel is knocked down in the storm and then held captive in Pelayo’s chicken coop for years. The angel speaks a strange dialect, so he can’t explain himself to the locals, and his pathetic, mangy appearance makes him a target for their derision. He’s treated like a “circus animal,” as Pelayo and his wife Elisenda keep him captive and charge admission for locals to see him. Since everyone expects the angel to perform traditional miracles, the strange miracles he does perform don’t impress anyone: the blind man grows three new teeth instead of regaining his sight, and the paralytic “nearly” wins the lottery instead of becoming able to walk. However, the story obliquely implies that the angel’s presence was responsible for the sick child being healed, which raises the question of whether the angel is deliberately not performing the miracles that the cruel townspeople expect. Once the locals are tired of the angel, he lives a sorry existence, maltreated, ignored, and considered only a nuisance. Despite his terrible treatment, the old man never lashes out at anyone; he bears his suffering with patience and grace from start to finish. In the end, he regains his strength and flies away without anybody in the town ever recognizing that his presence was a miracle. That the angel’s appearance—besides his wings—was so banal and pathetic suggests that the sacred and mundane coexist seamlessly, and that miracles are embedded in the fabric of everyday life, if only people had the attention and openness to notice.

The Old Man (the Angel) Quotes in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

The A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings quotes below are all either spoken by The Old Man (the Angel) or refer to The Old Man (the Angel) . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings published in 1984.
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Quotes

He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel) , Pelayo
Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

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He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud. They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar. Then they dared speak to him, and he answered in an incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor’s voice. That was how they skipped over the inconvenience of the wings and quite intelligently concluded that he was a lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel) , Pelayo, Elisenda
Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Father Gonzaga went into the chicken coop and said good morning to him in Latin. The parish priest had his first suspicion of an imposter when he saw that he did not understand the language of God or know how to greet His ministers. Then he noticed that seen close up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels.

Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The curious came from far away. A traveling carnival arrived with a flying acrobat who buzzed over the crowd several times, but no one paid any attention to him because his wings were not those of an angel but, rather, those of a sidereal bat.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel)
Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Especially during the first days, when the hens pecked at him, searching for the stellar parasites that proliferated in his wings, and the cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing. The only time they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers, for he had been motionless for so many hours that they thought he was dead. He awoke with a start, ranting in his hermetic language and with tears in his eyes, and he flapped his wings a couple of times, which brought on a whirlwind of chicken dung and lunar dust and a gale of panic that did not seem to be of this world.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel)
Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

A spectacle like that, full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat without even trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals. Besides, the few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder, like the blind man who didn’t recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn’t get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers. Those consolation miracles, which were more like mocking fun, had already ruined the angel’s reputation when the woman who had been changed into a spider finally crushed him completely.

Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

At first, when the child learned to walk, they were careful that he not get too close to the chicken coop. But then they began to lose their fears and got used to the smell, and before they child got his second teeth he’d gone inside the chicken coop to play, where the wires were falling apart. The angel was no less standoffish with him than with the other mortals, but he tolerated the most ingenious infamies with the patience of a dog who had no illusions.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel) , The Child
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The doctor who took care of the child couldn’t resist the temptation to listen to the angel’s heart, and he found so much whistling in the heart and so many sounds in his kidneys that it seemed impossible for him to be alive. What surprised him most, however, was the logic of his wings. They seemed so natural on that completely human organism that he couldn’t understand why other men didn’t have them too.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel)
Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He remained motionless for several days in the farthest corner of the courtyard, where no one would see him, and at the beginning of December some large, stiff feathers began to grow on his wings, the feathers of a scarecrow, which looked more like another misfortune of decrepitude. But he must have known the reason for those changes, for he was quite careful that no one should notice them, that no one should hear the sea chanteys that he sometimes sang under the stars.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel)
Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Elisenda let out a sigh of relief, for herself and for him, when she watched him pass over the last houses, holding himself up in some way with the risky flapping of a senile vulture. She kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.

Related Characters: The Old Man (the Angel) , Elisenda
Related Symbols: Wings
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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The Old Man (the Angel) Character Timeline in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

The timeline below shows where the character The Old Man (the Angel) appears in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
...to calm the stench, he sees something “moving and groaning” in his courtyard. It’s an old man , face-down in the mud, who has enormous wings. (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Pelayo finds his wife Elisenda and together they examine the man : he’s “dressed like a ragpicker,” nearly bald, with few teeth—he’s in the “pitiful condition”... (full context)
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...wise neighbor to be sure. The neighbor tells them their “mistake”: the man is an angel who must have been “coming for the child” when he was knocked down by the... (full context)
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
While the neighbor believes that they should club the angel to death because angels are “fugitive survivors of a celestial conspiracy,” Pelayo and Elisenda don’t... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...Pelayo and Elisenda feel “magnanimous”: they decide that the next day they will put the angel on a raft and push him out to sea. However, in the morning they find... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
...the local priest, Father Gonzaga, arrives. By now, all kinds of wild theories about the angel are being put forward by the townspeople, including that he should be made “mayor of... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
...Gonzaga’s warnings fall on deaf ears. People flock in such numbers to see the strange angelic creature that troops with bayonets have to come to disperse the crowd. Elisenda, frustrated with... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
People travel from all around to get a glimpse of the angel. A carnival comes along, trying to capitalize on the crowd that has gathered, but they... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
Amidst all this commotion, the angel doesn’t pay attention to the crowds. He is just trying to get comfortable in his... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...age to go to a dance. She becomes a much more popular spectacle than the angel, because a “spectacle like that is full of so much human truth and with such... (full context)
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
Meanwhile, the angel annoys the public through his “consolation miracles”: a blind man grows three new teeth, a... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
...has balconies and gardens and, more importantly, iron bars and netting to keep crabs or angels from getting in. Pelayo quits his job to set up a rabbit warren. Elisenda treats... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Both the angel and the child come down with a case of the chicken pox. A doctor comes... (full context)
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
Faith, Religion, and Morality Theme Icon
...time, the sun and the rain have caused the chicken coop to collapse. Now the angel drags himself from room to room in the house “like a stray dying man.” Though... (full context)
The Sacred and the Mundane Theme Icon
Patience, Empathy, and Cruelty Theme Icon
But the angel survives the winter, and as the days get sunnier his strength improves. Feathers reappear on... (full context)