A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings: A Tale For Children Discussion in Class
Outline • Characters • Language & Narrative Perspective • Theme • Activity: Show and Tell • For all: Extension Questions
Characters: 2 Groups • What do you think about the following characters? • Elisenda & Pelayo • The Villagers • Father Gonzaga • The old man vs. the Spider Woman • What’s humorous and ironic in the story’s characterization? Are you sympathetic with the characters in any way? • What do you think about the ending?
Your Comments on the Old Man & the Villagers • Why is there whistling in the heart and sounds in the kidneys of the angel? “That was one of the few times they became alarmed, for they thought he was going to die and not even the wise neighbor woman had been able to tell them what to do with dead angels.” Why would they care? They have been treating him so cruelly all there years, they must be happy for his death?
Language & Narration: 1 Group • Anything else interesting about the language? • What do you think of the story's narrative? Is the narrator judgmental or sympathetic in any way?
Themes (1) 2 Groups 1. The title: • What is the significance of the title "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"? What do you think about the ending? • In what sense is the story "A Tale for Children"? How is the child in the story related to the old man? 2. The supernatural: • What does the short story say about reality and the supernatural? • What do you think of Elisenda's statement that "it was awful living in that hell full of angels"?
Themes (2) – Magic Realism 1 Group • a) Do you know what magic realism is? Do you see elements of magical realism in the text? • b) What are the "magical possibilities" in this story? How is the supernatural mixed with the mundane? c) Instead of providing us a clear moral (as a fairy tale does), how does this story "[frustrate and complicate] the reader's efforts to fix a definite meaning to events? Can you interpret the story in more than one way? c-2) Besides being a mirror reflecting the society, what other functions does the angel serve?
Reference (1): Magic Realism • Magic Realism is a literary style that "combines realistic, everyday details with elements of fantasy, blurring the reader's usual distinctions between reality and magic. But unlike other works of the imagination such as fairy tales or folk legends, stories of magic realism lead to no clear morals or simple truths; they present a rich and vivid world of magical possibilities, while frustrating and complicating the reader's efforts to fix a definite meaning to events" ("Overview") • Also called "marvelous realism“ (Carpentier) • Is the reality in the story marvelous? Or is it open to multiple interpretation, challenging our typical perception of it?
Extension • 1. What would have been your own response had you found the old man with wings in your back yard?2. What do you think the old man with wings reveal about human nature? And our views of the supernatural? Is it something absolute, or a matter of personal interpretations?3. Compare "The Story of an Hour" with this story. • narrator’s entry into her room and into her mind • Kaleidoscope • The character’s crossing the lines and causing a stir in society
Show and Tell in “Story of an Hour” or “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” • Where does the narrator merely “tell” the story? • Where does the narrator describe the details and “show” us what happens? • What’s great about each and/or a combination of the two?