“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” is a representative of the genre of magical realism, written by Gabriel Marquez. Magical Realism is a narrative strategy that applies fantasy elements to portray ordinary events. However, there is a lot of imagination, mythical and magical elements in this story. It blurs the difference between reality and myth. As the story starts, everything is ordinary and as usual, until a drowned man washes up from the sea and arrives to a small, boring village with no flowers.
The drowned man is extremely big and his appearance is the handsomest. Therefore, people in the village characterize him with superlatives. They deeply believe the drowned man has the power to transform the village and make their lives better, which is why they even name him “Esteban,” represents a mythical figure and a god of their belief. At the end, the villagers prepare a ritual for him and decide to return him back to the sea. At this time, they bring many flowers to the funeral, which clarifies their lives and the village has already been changed.
Furthermore, due to the drowned man’s physical features, villagers do not only turn him into a magical element, but also a mythical figure to explain his differences and special and their own admirations. At the same time, the villagers transform their compassion toward the dead man into something that they hope and expect to be. Whether or not Esteban’s myth and its influence is tangible, it certainly successfully changes the villagers’ attitudes toward their lives. This short story is full of magical realism, which is a new writing technology that appeared in the 20thcentury.
It describes an event from a perspective of people who live in one world, but experience a different reality. At the same time, it is also a way to explain something that is unexplainable, such as “Esteban”, who is enormous and the handsomest. In the story, the dead man “Esteban” is an obvious and a huge symbol of magical realism. Indeed, he is just an ordinary man, but because of his appearance and physical features, the villagers all think he knows magic and can transform things. Additionally, this story takes place in an ordinary small and dry village near the sea.
The small village consisted of “twenty-odd wooden houses that have stone courtyards with no flowers” (56). Villagers live near the sea; as a result, they cannot plant flowers because of the salty water. However, that’s only until the day the handsomest drowned man accidentally reaches the village, which is when everything starts to become extraordinary. At the same time, it is the beginning of a myth. The theme of this short story is about how the presence of the handsomest drowned man transforms the village and the villagers’ world.
His beauty enlarges the villagers’ imaginations and desire to have a better life. Whenever the villagers look at the drowned man, they can see what they lack and they would turn their desire into the dead man. To put it differently, both men and women in the village grow attracted to the drowned man. They all relate to him in their own way. However, what they relate to him is reflected on what they desire to have. Eventually, the drowned man completely transforms the villagers’ mind and whole village’s image Moreover, Marquez begins this story with a realistic scene, which is interesting to the readers.
He states the story with the kids’ creative imagination toward the “dark and slinky bulge approaching through the sea”. At the beginning, he says the kids think the unknown object is an enemy ship, then a whale, jellyfish tentacles, until they finally realize it is a drowned man, and the kids start having fun with him. Magical realism is in this scene. In fact, it is strange that kids play with a dead man; however, on the other side, it illustrates how the kids in that village are distinctive, their reactions and behavior toward the dead body are unusual and unrealistic.
Indeed, the children liked to guess and fantasize about something they did not know. Later on, when the men in the village discovered that the kids were playing with the dead man, they moved him to a room. During the process, they realized that his “weight is more than any dead man, as much as the horse” and his height was “taller than any men and there was barely enough room for him in the house” (56). At that moment, what was once ordinary became the stereotype of magic realism and was the beginning of the transformation.
Besides, when women were washing up the drowned man, they too discovered that he was enormous. They claimed: “Not only was he the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best built man they had ever seen. ” (57) The drowned man was obviously an element of magical realism in the story due to his unbelievable enormity. When the villagers saw this huge man, they did not feel scared or wanted to ignore him. Instead, they took care of him and examined him in detail. Additionally, at that night, the atmosphere and weather in the village had been particularly different from the usual.
The wind was very stable and the sea was restless and peaceful; therefore, women thought that “this change had something to do with the dead man” (57). To repeat it, women in the village thought that the peacefulness at that night was all because of the dead man. They believed the drowned man had the magic and power to change the nature, which made the drowned man become a magical person. Furthermore, the drowned man’s huge size and unique appearance attracted the women’s attention, which made them admire and awe him.
Virtually, the drowned man may not have been as special as the villagers described. However, they portrayed him in the way they expected him to be. At the same time, the women even start to imagine what his daily life had been like. “They thought that if that magnificent man had lived in the village, his house would have had the widest doors, the highest ceiling, and the strongest floor” (57). The women imagine what his house would be like if he is was still alive, they point out the details which make the readers feel real and believe that this actually happened.
Synchronously, they keep making stories about his life, they fantasize he had the power and authority to catch the fish from the sea just by calling their names, and that he had the power to plant “flowers on the cliffs. ” At this point, the women are putting and transforming themselves into their own imagination. They have these fantasies toward the drowned man because those are what they are lacking, the images reflect what they hope and wish to have. In reality, they live near a desert that has no clean water to plant flowers and cannot get fish easily.
Hence their strong desire for having better living conditions and identifying their understanding of the meaning of life. They transform what they desire and hope to the dead man to satisfy themselves. Meanwhile, they make the dead man a magical figure that can improve their lives. Additionally, due to the villagers’ power of imagination, they are able to create stories about “Esteban” and eventually turn him into a mythical figure. Women in the village give a name to the drown man to personalized him and made him a part of their community.
Most importantly, it clearly shows that “Esteban” eventually belongs to “them. ” Besides, they continuously envision his life in the village, thinking how his gigantic body caused inconveniences and struggles to his lifetime. They “could see him in life, condemned to going through doors sideways, cracking his head on crossbeams, remaining on his feet during visits” and “…later on would whisper the big boob finally left, how nice, the handsome fool has gone” (57). Marquez creates compassion through the eyes of the women, they begin to see this ordinary man with extraordinary thoughts and feelings.
They understand what it must have been like to live with an enormous body, and they deeply and truly feel sympathy for him. However, the compassion they have toward “Esteban” is exaggerated and almost unrealistic. Nevertheless, as their fantasies go on, their images get large and seem more realistic to themselves as well as to the readers. Subsequently, women “use a handkerchief so that the light would not bother him, he looked so forever dead, so defenseless, so much like their men that the first furrows of tears opened in their hearts” (57). Women look at “Esteban” with compassion as one of their men and feel sorry for his death.
In fact, this dead man is just an ordinary person, but due to his enormity, the women are more willing to make him the way they hope he was. As they look at his life from their own perspectives, they put more compassion on him, and finally raise him from the level of a dead man to another level, one of a mythical figure, which enables their desires for their lives in the village to be more intensive and meaningful. Simultaneously, their compassion and desire to protect him make them into a more active role, which makes them feel capable of changing their own lives rather than just believing they need a superhero to help them.
As the villagers’ compassion for “Esteban” gets larger, they finally decide to “hold the most splendid funeral” for him. To make the ritual more real and alive, women go to the other neighboring village to get flowers. At the same time, they spread the story far and use flowers to attract many people to their village. At this point, the ritual is a celebration of bringing the community together. Concurrently, it is also a scene of celebrating the village’s transformation into a better one because of the drowned man.
Meanwhile, the villagers choose a parent and relatives for “Esteban”, which make him seem as one of their big family. On the other side, it also means he is not a stranger anymore. Marquez elucidates, “while they fought for the privilege of carrying him on their shoulders along the steep by the cliffs, men and women became aware for the first time of the desolation of their streets, the dryness of their courtyards, the narrowness of their dreams as they faced the splendor and beauty of their drowned man” (59). This is a scene that clarifies the transformation.