It is a sad world when Pelayo discovers an old man with large, weathered wings stuck in the mud. It has been raining for three days. The beach is a mixture of rotting crabs and sludge. Stench is everywhere. Worst of all, Pelayo's baby is ill with a fever.

Because the strange visitor possesses wings and speaks an unknown dialect, no one knows for certain who or what he is. He seems awfully decrepit to be a supernatural being. A neighbor thinks he's an angel who has come for the baby. Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda, suspect he is a sailor or castaway. The parish priest, Father Gonzaga, believes the old man is not an angel but rather an imposter.

After examining the man with wings, the doctor decides it is impossible such a creature is even alive. The old man is locked in a chicken coop and treated like a freak. People pay five cents to view him, and before long, Pelayo and Elisenda make enough money to build a mansion. Their newborn child regains his health.

When the boy is older, both he and the old man with wings contract chicken pox. The old man is mistreated and burned with a branding iron. All he eats is eggplant mush. The town is visited by many carnival attractions including a woman transformed into a spider because she defied her parents. People eventually lose interest in the old man. One winter he has a fever and is delirious. He not only survives but grows new wings. His clumsy attempts at flight eventually improve and one day he disappears into the horizon.


The story is packaged as a fable. Its subtitle--"A Tale for Children"--underscores its fairy tale format. What then is the moral? Several are possible: People wouldn't recognize a miracle even if they saw one. Patience pays off. Appearances are deceptive.

What makes the title character so special (or perhaps celestial)? Consider one crucial (and accurate) description of the very old man with wings: "His only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience" (221). Certainly his wings and the ability to fly differentiate the strange visitor from ordinary men but so too do his extraordinary patience and acceptance of suffering. In addition, good things happen when he is around. The rain ends. The child's health improves. Pelayo and Elisenda prosper. Many wacky or "consolation" miracles occur. For example, a blind man fails to regain his vision but instead sprouts new teeth! What does it take to qualify as a miracle?

The story is an excellent example of magic realism--the genre that mingles fantasy and the ordinary so effectively that it blurs the line between reality and the absurd. The tale provokes discussions about exploitation, suffering, deliverance, religion, and the search for healing.


The story is subtitled "A Tale for Children" and was translated by Gregory Rabassa.

Primary Source

Collected Stories


Perennial Classics

Place Published

New York



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