A drowned man is anything but handsome. In the film “Castaway” made in the year 2000, the main character played by Tom Hanks pulls a drowned man who was his pilot from the sea. He is bloated and his skin is green. He is definitely not a handsome man. Why then would Gabriel Garcia Marquez write a story about a handsome drowned man? Marquez writes a magical story of a man from a faraway land washing up on the shore of a remote village. Though he is dead, the main character Esteban becomes a hero of transformation through characterization, genre of magical realism and setting in the “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”. Marquez illustrates that the people who come into our lives, even in the most unusual circumstances can change our outlook on the world.
The drowned man starts off as just a corpse who is found by the children of the village but through his characterization becomes a hero and finally a member of the village’s family. The children see him floating and at first think he is an enemy ship and then a whale. Only when he washes up on the beach do they realize he is a man. The dead man is brought to the village and cared for by the women. At first the women are overtaken by his beauty and physique. Slowly the drowned man becomes Esteban. Marquez is known for writing stories based on real places in Latin America and there “Esteban” is a folk hero known as Estevanico (Davey).
He comes to life in their minds as they dress him, comb his hair and cut his nails. They all become his mother as they think of how, “…unhappy he must have been with that huge body since it bothered him even after death” (6.10). Though he is dead, Esteban starts to look, “so much like their men” (6.22) because they can see him as the man he was when he was alive. Soon, the villagers realize the, “…drowned man was becoming all the more Esteban for them, and so they wept so much, for he was the most destitute, most peaceful and most obliging man on earth, poor Esteban” (6.25).
The men in the story have been out inquiring from other villages about Esteban to see if anyone is missing him. After some hesitation the men of the village are also overcome by Esteban when a handkerchief is removed from his face. “He was Esteban. It was not necessary to repeat it for them to recognize him” (8.1). Esteban pleads his story in the minds of the men and women watching over him as he explains, “that it was not his fault that he was so big or so heavy or so handsome and if he had known that this was going to happen, he would have looked for a more discreet place to drown in…” Esteban’s thoughts go on to explain that his dead body, “this filthy piece of cold meat …doesn’t have anything to do with me” (8.11). It is almost as if Esteban is really alive speaking out loud and apologizing for the inconvenience he has caused and in doing so, he changes the lives of the villagers surrounding him.
Finally, the people of the village realize they must let go of Esteban and give him, “…the most splendid funeral they could ever conceive of for an abandoned drowned man” (9.1). It pains them to return this orphan to the sea so they, “chose a father and mother from among the best people, and aunts and uncles and cousins, so that through him all inhabitants of the village became his kinsmen” (9.7). The villagers even hope that he will return to them somehow one day. “They let him go without an anchor so that he could come back if he wished and whenever he wished…” (9.14). Esteban evolves from a nameless corpse to a loved member of the community in just a short time as the villagers make him a part of their family.
From the very beginning of the story, Marquez’s use of magical realism is evident. While the village and its villager exist within a very realistic setting and perform normal daily routines, the arrival of the drowned man depicts elements of the surreal and fantastic. The name Esteban is a reference to the explorer and adventurer “Estevanico” (Davey). He, “weighed more than any dead man they had every known, almost as much as a horse” (2.3) and he seems to continue to grow even though he is dead. The women of the village set to the task of cleaning the drowned man who is covered with mud and has rocks tangled in his hair. As they do so they notice that,- “…the vegetation on him came from faraway oceans and deep water and that his clothes were in tatters, as if he had sailed through labyrinths of coral” (4.5). The women marvel at his adventures and that he has come to their humble village from somewhere far away.
After the women finish cleaning the drowned man they are left “breathless” as they discover “the kind of man he is” (4.9). “Not only was he the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best built man they had ever seen, but even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination” (4.10-11). Throughout the story, Esteban is described in a “larger than life” form. “They could not find a bed in the village large enough to lay him on nor was there a table solid enough to use for his wake” (5.1-2). The women try to find clothes for him to wear but nothing is big enough for this incredible man. “Fascinated by his huge size and his beauty” (5.3), they finally decide to make him some pants from a large boat sail and a shirt from some “bridal Brabant linen so that he could continue through his death with dignity” (5.4). This paragraph reminds the reader of something that might be in a folklore tale about Paul Bunyan.
The women are completely taken by the drowned man. The more time they spend grooming him and dressing him the more they become obsessed with his beauty. It seems strange that a woman could fall in love with a dead man which makes the whole thing seem more magical. As the women make clothes for Esteban’s large body they gaze, “at the corpse between stiches” (5.6). The women start to imagine what it would have been like to have this man live in their village. “His house would have had the widest doors, the highest ceiling and the strongest floor…and his wife would have been the happiest woman” (6.9-11). The women even guess that he would have had the power to “draw fish out of the sea simply by calling their names” (6.12). Their own husbands start to seem extremely dull and, “incapable of doing what he could do in one night” (6.16). Esteban’s magical presence transforms the monotonous lives of the villagers and brings a fantastical element to this story.
The setting is also transfigured by the enchanting arrival of the drowned man, Esteban. The village has twenty wooden houses and is very common with, “stone courtyards with no flowers and which were spread about on the end of a desert-like cape” (2.2-3). The fact that there are no flowers implies that there is very little color in the town. There is very little land but there are high cliffs and it is very windy. It is such a small village that, “all of the men fit into seven boats” (3.6). It is also a Wednesday when the dead man is discovered which points out how ordinary and unexciting the day is.
When Esteban arrives and he is received so grandly by the women of the village the setting begins to change immediately, “…it seemed to them that the wind had never been so steady nor the sea so restless as on that night and they supposed that the change had something to do with the dead man” (5.13). Soon, the village prepares for Esteban’s burial and the women go to a neighboring town to pick and bring back flowers, “and they brought more and more until there were so many flowers…that it was hard to walk about” (9.4-5). Esteban is again the hero bringing color to this plain, ordinary village. The villagers start to notice, “…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” (9.12-13).
They are inspired by Esteban to make their village better, more extraordinary and decide that from then on things would be different, “…that their houses would have wider doors, higher ceilings, and stronger floors so that Esteban’s memory could go everywhere…” (9.16). The villagers also commit to, “paint their houses gay colors” and “break their backs digging for springs among the stones and planting flowers on the cliffs…” so the people would be, “suffocated by the smell of gardens on the high seas…” (9.18-20). Esteban’s greatness inspires the villagers to rise up and transform their village into something of greatness.
Heroic characters can be found in the most unlikely of people as is evident in “The Most Handsome Drowned Man in the World”. It is strange to think of a bloated dead man being able to inspire a small village and bring them together to transform their mundane lives into something extraordinary. However, Marquez teaches that every once in a while someone washes up into our lives and makes a difference. Most of the time it is unexpected and, might not be what we had in mind, but is exactly what we need.
Davey, V. (2015). First African Explorer in North America: Estevanico. Retrieved from
Marquez, G. G. (2015). The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World. Retrieved from http://www.utdallas.edu/~aargyros/hansomest.htm Pagnucci, G. (2015). Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from http://www.english.iup.edu/pagnucci/courses/121/definitions/litdefinition-magicalrealism.htm