The Old Man
An old man with wings who appears in Pelayo and Elisenda’s yard one day. Filthy and bedraggled, the old man speaks a foreign language that no one can understand. His wings and unintelligible language prompts some people to believe that he’s a fallen angel and the church to believe he’s a Norwegian, even though he seems oblivious to nearly everything that happens around him. By the end of the story, the old man has recovered enough to fly away, exiting Pelayo’s and Elisenda’s lives as suddenly as he’d entered.
Elisenda’s husband and the discoverer of the old man. Pelayo is an ordinary villager, poor but grudgingly willing to shelter the winged old man in his chicken coop. Pelayo guards the old man from harm, humbly consults the village priest, and has the sense to resist the more extravagant advice he receives from the other villagers. Pelayo, however, does not want to take care of the man indefinitely and doesn’t feel bad using the old man to get rich.
Read an in-depth analysis of Pelayo.
Pelayo’s wife. Elisenda convinces Pelayo to charge villagers to see the old man but later considers him to be a nuisance. A practical woman, she primarily concerns herself with the welfare of Pelayo and their child and is therefore relieved when the old man finally leaves.
Read an in-depth analysis of Elisenda.
The village priest. As an authority figure in the community, Father Gonzaga takes it upon himself to discern whether the old man is an angel as the townsfolk believe or just a mortal who just happens to have wings. Father Gonzaga is skeptical that the dirty old man could really be a messenger from heaven, but he dutifully reports the event to his superiors in the church. As he waits for the Vatican’s reply, he does his best to restrain the enthusiasm and credulousness of the crowd of onlookers.
The Neighbor Woman
Pelayo and Elisenda’s bossy neighbor. The supposedly wise neighbor woman actually seems more like a silly know-it-all than a true counselor and is the first to suggest that the old man is a crippled angel. She tells Pelayo to club the old man to death to prevent him from taking Pelayo and Elisenda’s sick baby to heaven.
The Spider Woman
A freak-show attraction who visits the village. Punished for the sin of disobeying her parents, the spider woman now has the body of an enormous spider and the head of a sad young woman. The clear moral of the woman’s story draws gawking villagers away from the old man, who is unable to offer the crowds such a compelling narrative.