Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” In the short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” the author, Gabriel Marquez, makes an effort to show the reader many different lessons that could be learned in life. The attribute of mercy stands out as one of the themes that the author intended to teach the audience. He has a unique style of writing, the ability to show the reader something they did not know either about themselves or about others. He is known for the genre of magical realism and typically writes in third person omniscient. In this particular story, the reader is introduced to a small family who has a sick baby. Before Marquez gives too many details about the family, a strange new character is introduced, a very old man with enormous wings. It is not clear who the man is or why he is in their yard, but the neighbor suspects that he is an angel come to heal their baby. People travel hundreds of miles and pay admission to see the angel locked up in a chicken coop. The “angel” sacrificed his pride and freedom so the family could be better off than they were before. Marquez highlights mercy through characterization, symbolism, and conflict proving that true mercy demonstrates compassion towards others regardless of their response.
The first way that Marquez displays mercy is through characterization. The entire visualization of the old man with large wings is mercy. He is pictured through an internal aspect, completely defined by his actions. They put him in a chicken coop, but their child was healed anyway. “Pelayo watched over him all afternoon from the kitchen, armed with his bailiff’s club, and before going to bed he dragged him out of the mud and locked him up with the hens in the wire chicken coop. In the middle of the night, when the rain stopped, Pelayo and Elisenda were still killing crabs. A short time afterward the child woke up without a fever and with a desire to eat” (Marquez par. 4.) They charge the community money to come see him, and he sits in the chicken coop, taking all of the looks and things thrown at him with grace. They brand him and considered clubbing him, but he continues to sit there so that the family in poverty could get back on their feet.
Both the husband and the wife showed mercy in spots of the story. For example, when the old man is stuck in the mud at the beginning, Pelayo helps to pull him out and allows him to stay in the chicken coop with the chickens. “Before going to bed he [Pelayo] dragged him [the old man with wings] out of the mud and locked him up with the hens in the wire chicken coop” (Marquez par. 4). Despite the fact that the “angel” scared the family at the beginning, they showed him enough mercy to give him shelter. The wife, Elisenda, lets him stay in the house after the chicken coop falls apart, but quickly gets irritated with him for being in the way. “He seemed to be in so many places at the same time that they grew to think that he’d be duplicated, that he was reproducing himself all through the house, and the exasperated and unhinged Elisenda shouted that it was awful living in that hell full of angels.” ( Marquez par. 12).
The second way that the author shows mercy is through symbols. Once again, the “angel” is a symbol of humility and mercy continually throughout the story. Also throughout the plot the reader sees that the couple’s child shows mercy without knowing it. He was not afraid to play and talk to the old man, and did not see him as a monster. “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” (Marquez par. 10). The chicken coop symbolizes the old man’s lack of freedom, which is ironic since his wings symbolize power. Another symbol in this story is the storm at the beginning. The storm can symbolize change, which was definitely true for this story, as the family would never be the same again. “The world had been sad since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on March nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish” (Marquez par. 1).
Finally, Marquez shows mercy through imagery. The wings of the very old man are a picture of his mistreatment from the family and the community. “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” (Marquez par. 8). The conditions of his wings mirrors the condition that people have been treating him. By clearly painting this image, the author better exemplifies the leniency shown by the old man for the townspeople.
In conclusion, Gabriel Marquez uses many different literary techniques to show the characteristic of mercy throughout this story. He does a phenomenal job of showing different attitudes throughout the story, and letting the reader pick and choose what they would like to get out of it. In the end, the main points of mercy are shown through characterization, s