A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
The Old Man in the story was symbolic of the spiritual realm. This spiritual realm came in contact with the earthly realm when the angel came in the form of a weak castaway. The only evidence that he is not from this place is his enormous wings. But there are three kinds of reactions to his presence and these are coming from three different groups of people: the family who first spotted the angel, the religious authorities; and the mob. These three groups of people will demonstrate their various reactions when heaven came to earth. Their interpretation of the event was based on human nature as well as their preconceived notions. In the end, the angelic being was able to accomplish what it was sent to do but no one noticed.
Pelayo and Elisenda were at a loss when it comes to dealing with their unexpected visitor. At first, they thought that the Old Man was the harbinger of death so they thought of killing him. The angel was symbolic of heaven. It was a symbol of God reaching out to them and trying to respond to their desperate need. Their child was sick and they were so poor that crabs from the seashore were able to enter their home unhindered. But the couple responded in disgust considering first their convenience. The author described Elisenda’s spine as all twisted up, the image of backbreaking work due to cleaning up after the mess left by the crowd. Their neighbor the old woman who advised them was a symbol of hearsay and urban legends. Everything that the old woman said was false but the couple had no choice but to listen to her. As a result, the couple was ungrateful to the heavenly messenger. This is because the blessings they received did not come in the form that they expected and so they concluded that the healing of their child and the unexpected wealth came from their own work and not from above.
The reaction of the religious authorities to heaven coming to earth was typical. They tried to regulate it and at the same time the religious leaders who were closest to the event, those who were closest to the people were unable to get the blessing of the heavenly messenger because they tried to hinder his work. Father Gonzaga’s use of Latin to speak to the angel was symbolic of the hubris of religious authorities. They always thought that they are experts when it comes to heavenly things and so succeeded in limiting God in a box. The author mentioned the priest writing a letter to the bishop who in turn will write to his primate and then to the Supreme Pontiff, which is an illustration that religious authorities are bound by rules and traditions making them irrelevant and useless.
The mob’s reaction to heaven touching earth was governed by their appetites. There was no reverence they were simply curious and wanted to be entertained. On the other hand, many tried to find practical applications to this angelic visitation. This was made clear when some suggested that the angel should be put to stud to create a new breed of superhumans. Others tried to extract miracles from the Old Man and yet were disappointed when their prayers were not explicitly answered. They were not in awe and this was made clear when a new attraction came to town. The image of the spider woman was symbolic of their insatiable appetite for the bizarre. So they promptly left the Old Man for they thought that he was worthless to them.
It was supposed to be a spectacular event one that would forever change their lives but they did not honor and respect this event because they had a different view of heavenly beings. Elisenda and Pelayo were blinded by their ignorance so they did not recognize that the angel cured their sick child and gave them the ability to make money. The mob was slow to realize the miracles they experienced because they wanted the heavenly messenger to behave according to their wishes and desire. All were ungrateful even with the little miracles they experienced. But the most pathetic were the religious leaders who missed it all because they were still debating about it until now.
Gimpel the Fool
The story is a thinly veiled narration of what it was like being a Jew in the 20th century. The author, Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in 1904 in Poland and immigrated to America, and became an American citizen in 1943. The main character was called Gimpel the Fool because everyone tried to fool him. But Gimpel was not really a person of low intelligence. He became a fool because circumstances forced him to believe their lies. It was his desperation to be accepted, to have a loving wife and family as well as his desire to be a good Jew that forced him to endure all the sufferings that he had to suffer. At the end of his life, he departed this earth knowing that he did the right thing. Even if he was left with nothing, he was comforted with the thought that he would soon meet God.
The “pranksters and the leg-pullers” that made life hard for Gimpel, was symbolic of the people that the author met during his lifetime. Jews had a difficult time dealing with non-Jews in Europe and this is probably the inspiration behind the character of Gimpel the Fool. It is also interesting how the author used the imagery of dogs trying to bite him. Dogs are symbolic of Gentiles or non-Jews. The dogs are giving him a hard time but he could not afford to retaliate because no one will help him or come in his defense. More importantly, Gimpel is trying to establish rapport with his neighbors and therefore he did not try to argue with them and so he believed everything that they said. This story tries to explain the posture of the Jews in Europe, they are pacifists and they are trying their best to get along with others, knowing perhaps that their errors are magnified and so they try so hard to please others.
Religion played an important role in the life of Gimpel. There was this desperation to know more about God, to know more about spiritual matters, and to know more about the afterlife. This was clearly illustrated when someone made a joke regarding the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead. The reaction of Gimpel was symbolic of the longing of Jews everywhere regarding the coming of the Messiah and because of this desperation, Gimpel was willing to make a fool of himself. But there is another aspect of the Jewish religion that the author wanted the reader to understand. It is the realization that Jewish religious leaders are highly educated and yet lacking the ability to be practical and decisive when needed.
Gimpel was not ignorant about the moral defects of his wife and the fact that he was not the father of the children that she gave birth to. But Gimpel’s sacrifice – his turning the other cheek, and his turning a blind eye with regards to Elka’s infidelity were to show how desperate Gimpel was for the love of family. This was explained by Gimpel early in the story when he said that he was an orphan. This is also symbolic of what many Jews felt after they left their Jewish villages in Europe to settle in a foreign land like America. They are willing to embrace this new family with all its defects because this is the only thing that they have in a foreign land.
The whole story is symbolic of the struggles of Jews. The reaction of Gimpel to the taunting, deception, and infidelity was symbolic of how Jews all over the world tried to endure the abuse they receive from their host country. They know that they are not welcome in so many places. They are well aware of how people try to make fun of their religion. Like Gimpel, they try to push down everything and pretend that there is nothing really wrong with how people mistreat them. They can endure because they want to live in peace with their neighbors. They can suffer because like Gimpel they believe that there is a reward waiting for them with God.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. Trans. Gregory Rabasa, 1955.
Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Gimpel the Fool. Trans. Saul Bellow, 1957.