SUMMARY of “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” by Gabriel García Márquez:
The village’s children see what they think is a beached whale down by the shore where they play. When they approach the blurb and wipe the seaweed and other trash of the lump, they see it is a drowned man. A villager sees them playing with the man and decides to go and investigate, noticing for the first time the sheer size of the man. The village men took him to their flowerless village after confirming that he was not one of theirs. Once the men had left him at a hut and gone off to check on neighboring villages, the women began to clean him off. They belied to have uncovered the handsomest mad they had ever seen, one that even kept his dignity about him while he was dead. They then decided to dress him up, but because none of their clothes actually fit the man, they made him custom-sized ones from sails. The woman begin to imagine all the wonders the man must have surely been able to do and all of the beautifulness he would have brought to their land, primarily in the form of being able to grow flowers, and, go as far as to announce that they would be countless times dreamier and better at everything than their own husbands. The older of the women decide that he has to be named Esteban while the youngest argue he looks to be more like a Lautaro. They go back to picturing daily village life with who they have now successfully deemed Esteban and begin to weep at the notion of sweeping sadness that follows. The men return shortly with the news that he belonged to no neighboring village, and the woman rejoice while stating ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘he’s ours’. The men get impatient after some time and demand the woman hurry up and stop adorning the nobody’s body so they could toss him back into the sea, but they all stop when someone pulls back a handkerchief covering his face. The men all stare in awe at the man, who could be none other than Esteban, and start to feel pity for the undersized and ashamed man. Both sexes agree, however on just how handsome the drowned man is. They proceeded to hold the “most splendid funeral they could ever conceive” for them an, going as far as to visit the nearby villages for flowers and appointing their fellow villagers as the stranger’s family. As they proceed in the funeral, they notice for the first time just how gray and drab their village is in comparison to Esteban. They all finally throw him into the water with the last act of not tying him down to a boat anchor so that he may “come back if he wished and whenever he wished”. They then all agree to do whatever possible to liven up the village with brighter colors and more flowers in order to pay tribute to the miracle that was Esteban.
This story, written by Gabriel García Márquez, utilizes a style called “magical realism,” which I personally find a very interesting mix. Just as the name suggest, it combines magical elements in a realistic piece. The sheer monstrosity of an abandoned, drowned man, both in size and power, give off a deep, almost godly sense of mystery surrounding him, which is just amplified as we are told he comes from another realm, the sea. The presence of a magical realm outside from our reality, one with fish scales so thick they cover an entire giant and where said giant, obviously so different from the human population that lives nearby, appears from one random day reinforces the magical experience the reader goes through. This combined with the descriptions of time in this island, where an entire village can spend a whole day wishing over a dead man and describes seconds as “fraction of centuries” gives the illusion that this universe, no matter how familiar to ours with all the mentions of flowers and seaweed and nearby villages, cannot take place in what we would call reality. Although the main plot, villagers swooning over a dead body, is not Harry Potter wand-like obvious magic itself, the word choice used in describing every little detail from the way the drowned man was found to the funeral itself gives off an audible not-quite-normal vibe, something I feel is powerfully accomplished in this piece. It is through selection of detail and, most importantly, word choice that the reader is successfully sucked into this land outside time. I wish to utilize Márquez’s “show, don’t tell” in my future writing as well as experiment in this relatively new genre.
Other than the superficial beauty of the piece, the symbolism implanted between the lines also proves to be well thought out and supremely placed throughout the piece. The references to important and powerful historic figures, such as the Mapuche (Chilean indigenous inhabitants) toque (leader during time of war) known as Lautaro, Esteban’s fought-over possible name, and the new-world explorer and writer Sir Walter Raleigh adds feelings of deeper respect and awe-like emotion to the otherwise, if extremely stripped down, unbelievable and ridiculous story about a village who reverends a cadaver. The symbolism plays a vital role in delivering the extra push of sympathizing with the villagers, the shove that sends us tumbling down the magical rabbit hole that some people who read realistic fiction or just lack enough flexibility and creativity might need.
As purposely pointed out in my summary, the flower motif also follows this piece. We first hear about flowers at the beginning of the piece, when the village is being described as “made up of only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers”. Other than providing concrete imagery our brain can latch on to, the absence of flowers also reflects on the mundane monotony of an average, colorless, lifeless village. The flowers are brought up again as the women daydream about what such a splendid man could have done in their village once looking upon Esteban, which is kind of ironic because he is dead, the opposite of lifeless. It is only just now, however, when staring upon a dead man does the village seem to notice just how their village could appear if it was more alive. Flowers are also mentioned at the end of this piece, after Esteban has been returned to the ocean. This picture of change contrasts to the flowerless village they were before they had encountered the man, illustrating physically just how much they have all changed by his visit.
- What did you think of the contrast in the men and women’s point of view concerning Esteban?
- Why do you think Márquez chose to tell the story from the point of view from such a large group of people instead of focusing on a specific person?
- Why was there a debate about naming the man Esteban vs Lautaro?
- What do you think of the genre?
- How else do you think the village was changed by Esteban?