18 October 2011
Torn Existence: The Transition of Time in Gabriel García Márquez’s “Nabo: The Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait”
Gabriel García Márquez’s “Nabo: The Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait,” contains two different sets of time lapses. The first set is human years in which Nabo’s supposed slave owners keep him locked up in a delirious state while he is holding on to his life by a thread. The second involves more of an abstract approach, in which the “man who patted his knees,” who is supposedly a metaphor for the angel, has been waiting for an “eternity” for Nabo to awake and join the choir. García Márquez writes:
Nabo couldn’t feel anything. It was as if he’d gone to sleep with the last blow of the horseshoe on his forehead and now that was the only feeling he had. He opened his eyes. He closed them again and then was quiet, stretched out, stiff, as he had been all afternoon, feeling himself growing without time, until someone behind him said: “Come on, Nabo. You’ve slept enough already.” He turned over and didn’t see the horses; the door was closed. (73)
Several phrases throughout this short story indicate passages of time, yet under a different context each time. For example, in the quote above, “…feeling himself growing without time,” is Nabo experiencing the fifteen human years passing in a mild conscious state. Although he is relatable to a senile old man, or homeless people muttering random nonsense on public transportation, Nabo is capable of feeling pain, hence making him slightly conscious. Yet, he is stuck in between two worlds at the same time when the “man who patted his knees” is asking Nabo to wake up from his eternal sleep. Some may argue that this man is merely a hallucination of Nabo’s, undermining his significance in the story. What they fail to realize is that the man is actually the angel that is mentioned in the title. He is the supernatural aspect of this particular García Márquez story and proves to be quite patient and tranquil when dealing with Nabo’s awakening. It is mentioned that Nabo was very keen to singing while he curried the horses. This is reflected in the angel’s consistent dialogue in which he presses Nabo to wake up in order to join the choir. It’s as if the angel is waiting for Nabo to die so that he can take him away to his ideal heaven: an angel choir where Nabo can happily sing forever in peace. The choir is a metaphor for death and the mute girl yelling out Nabo’s name at the end of the story is a metaphor for life and consciousness. Nabo is torn between two different realms, life and death.
Manfred Jahn explains the reasoning behind these time lapses through the function of an ellipsis:
A stretch of story time which is not textually represented at all. “The discourse halts, though time continues to pass in the story” (Chatman 1978: 70). Some critics consider ellipsis a special case of speed-up. Genette (1980 : 93, 95, 106-109); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 53); Toolan (1988: 56). (Jahn N5.2.3)
Every time Nabo seems to transition from one stage of his life to the next, an ellipsis is silently placed into the text. For example, “…feeling himself growing without time,” indicates a large passage of time with minimal wording. This eventually builds up to the conclusion of the story in which Nabo has fully grown from a young boy to a fully-grown adult. Turns out the kick to his face didn’t impede on Nabo’s growth spurt when his slave owners fed him three meals a day. Nabo’s refusal to die is expressed when he is set on finding the comb that he used to tend the horses’ tails with. Nabo is stuck in limbo, torn between two different worlds.
Jahn, Manfred. “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative.” Poems, Plays, and Prose: A Guide to the Theory of Literary Genres. Cologne: U of Cologne Press, 2002. http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm October 18, 2011.
Garcia Márquez, Gabriel. “Nabo: The Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait.” Collected Stories Trans. Gregory Rabassa and J.S. Bernstein. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1984. 73-82. Print.