Defining the Divine in a Mundane World
Defining the Divine in a Mundane World
Many short stories have themes that reflect the author’s beliefs or view about society. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Flannery O’Connor both come from societies that are Catholic and religion as a theme can easily be integrated in a story that involves their societies. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor are two short stories which both work as social commentaries that discuss themes such as isolation, irreverence and man’s perception of religion. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” differs from “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in its use of magical elements blended with mundane ones; the latter tells the story of what seems to be just another family outing. Garcia Marquez’s angel and O’Connor’s grandmother represent religion subject to isolation and irreverence.
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Garcia Marquez tells the story of an ancient-looking man with enormous wings found by a man named Pelayo. The villagers believe that the man is an angel who is “coming for the child” (Garcia Marquez 313). The man is treated with much irreverence even though people generally believe him to be an angel. Even Elisenda takes advantage of the situation by charging people who want to see the angel. The family grows rich out of making the angel a carnival spectacle. The story ends when finally the old man has fully grown his wings and flies away.
O’Connor’s story is about a family about to take a trip to Florida. The grandmother of the family, however, suggests that they go to East Tennessee instead because there is a criminal named Misfit who has just escaped from prison and on the way to Florida. The reader will notice from the very beginning that the grandmother’s family thinks of her as a nuisance instead of someone to respect and obey. This is especially clear when John Wesley says “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” (O’Connor 631) The changing of routes and stopping over by a seemingly familiar dirt road as requested by the grandmother ironically leads them into tragedy in the hands of Misfit, the escaped convict that they are supposed to beware of. They are trying to avoid the criminal, but by stopping by the dirt road, they are delivered into the hands of Misfit and his gang.
Though the two short stories vary in realism, from “A Good Man is Hard to Find” which can happen in real life to “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” which uses magical elements, they are both full of religious symbolisms. Garcia Marquez’s Father Gonzaga symbolizes the Roman Catholic Church, the villagers represent the Colombians and the angel is a symbol for religion as a whole. The villagers have an idealized view of religion, but when given the chance to lash out, they will do so against what the journal, The Explicator’s John Goodwin, “religious authorities” (Goodwin 118). O’Connor’s grandmother character is the “grace bringer (Bethea 239)” who has tried to change the Misfit, according to The Explicator’s Arthur Bethea. “The three bullets in her chest symbolize the Trinity…Trinitarian reference contributes to locating [O’Connor’s] fiction in a Christian universe” (Bethea 240). “The Misfit with two other thugs” forms a “perversion of the trinity” (Bethea 240). Instead of the Holy Trinity with Father, Son and Holy Ghost, there are three criminals, with the head, Misfit, as the worst, and most feared. However, the Misfit seems to have changed when referring to violence or murder he says, “It’s no real pleasure in life” (O’Connor 642).
Though the ancient angel has been a stranger to Pelayo and his family and the grandmother is part of the family in the other story, they are similar in their isolation. The angel’s isolation is obvious because he speaks a foreign language and is made into a circus show. On the other hand, the grandmother is often ignored; her son Bailey does not take her seriously and his wife just ignores the grandmother. “She is cut off and alone” (Keil 45). The main characters in both “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” both are emotionally separate from the people surrounding them. This may have been done to highlight the importance of their roles, which are given suggestions of divinity. The isolation must be an emphasis on the separation of what is human and what is divine. However, even if they are symbols for something loftier, the stories are open for the readers’ interpretations. The characters in both stories either have their doubts about the divinity of the main character, or do not see any trace of divinity at all. Father Gonzaga, upon close observation of the angel, has seen something “much too human” (Garcia Marquez 314) in the ancient man. He even warns the villagers about identifying the man as an angel on merely seeing his wings. Even the grandmother is infallible; her mistaken memory, of where the house with the secret panel is, has led the family into murderous hands. She is thought of by her family mostly as a nuisance.
In the two short stories, irreverence is the response of people towards those that should be representing goodness. Before becoming the village’s circus freak, the angel is thought to be one of “the fugitive survivors of a celestial prophecy” and Pelayo and his wife have even planned of putting him on “a raft with fresh water and provisions for three days and leave him to his fate on the high seas” (Garcia Marquez 313). As a carnival attraction, he is compared side by side to a “tarantula the size of a ram and with the head of a sad maiden” (Garcia Marquez 315). She is more responsive to the audience even though she is very deformed, mutated being. The angel being treated just like the mutant shows how he only feeds the curiosity of the people but not their faith. The grandmother, on the other hand, is an older, and supposedly, wiser person who makes the existence of her son, Bailey and her grandchildren possible. Yet, she does not get the respect that is due to her. Her grandchild, John Wesley even asks her “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” (Garcia Marquez 631). This is not the type of behavior or manner of speaking one would expect when speaking to a grandmother. There are no admonitions from Bailey and his wife, either. They may agree with what John Wesley has pointed out.
When dealing with the subject of whether the event in a story has affected the community or not, one may realize that anything that happens within a community may affect that community; the question is in whether the effect is large or small. The effect on the community by a single event is important in how people approach religion. People tend to notice and give importance to religion at crucial moments of their lives. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” delights and distresses the habitual life of a community” (Wolf 61). The villagers have found something to put under their scrutiny other than the usual neighborhood gossip. Therefore, even if religion is still isolated from the people, the people enjoy the sensationalism it brings. Moreover, the angel has brought wealth to Pelayo and Elisenda. The murder of the grandmother and her family may not yet show its effect on the community, but heinous crimes always present a big threat to any community. At times, religion is noticed after martyrdom.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are stories that make the readers think twice about what divinity is all about. Good and bad may seem to be obvious or they may also be subtle. It is always important to know how to discern which is which. The two short stories are both full of religious images, from the obvious winged angel and the priest Father Gonzaga to the ordinary grandmother and the criminal, the Misfit. The divinity in both stories are subjected to the trials of irreverence and isolation, but the effects of what happens in either story is not at all isolated but generates a widespread effect on its respective community.
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