I was wrong last week – I found another essay from my early days of school. High School or my first semester of college. I am not sure. It’s an English essay based on a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
It’s funny to read it now because it’s just such an essay. Do you know what I mean? It really just lays it all out in that first paragraph: I’m going to talk about this, this and this. Very typical and obvious thesis statement, you could use it in a middle school class as an example.
“Okay, class, read this introduction and highlight the thesis statement.”
And they’d all get an “A”.
Still, it makes me want to re-read “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”, so there’s that.
“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”
Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian author known for his use of magical realism, wrote “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”. It is a short story that illustrates how the arrival of something new and exotic can make people reexamine their own lives. In order to better understand the story, one should analyze the characters, setting and the theme.
In “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”, a drowned man washes up on the beach where a group of children are playing. They quickly turn the corpse into a plaything, poking it and burying in the sand until an adult discovers them and alerts the villagers. The village men carry the body to the nearest house which is so large it seems hardly able to fit in the small house. While the men set out to find where the man came from, the village women prepare the body for a funeral. It is stated that the village is so small that there is no room to bury the dead and that they are just tossed into the sea. Because the man is so much larger than the average villager, the women have to sew new clothes for him. As they clean him, they notice that the vegetation that has clung to him comes from faraway places and that he is much more handsome than their own men. This inspires them to start daydreaming about what sort of man he was and they imagine that he was a kinder and better sort of man than what they were used to, a man that would put their own to shame. An older woman in the group declares that he should be called Esteban, and everyone agrees that it suits him.
When the men return later, they have been unsuccessful in finding Esteban’s origin and prepare to cast the body back into the ocean, this time with weights to keep it from washing onto the shore, however, when they see Esteban’s face, they are as taken with him as the women are and a much grander funeral is planned. Villagers are chosen to act as Esteban’s family, people from the neighboring villages come to pay their respects, and the weights are left off so that Esteban may return if he so desires one day.
After the funeral, the entire village undergoes a renovation so that Esteban may have a home he can be proud of returning to. Irrigation ditches are dug and flowers are planted to beautify the village and houses are built with taller doors so that a man like Esteban may easily fit through them. All of this is done for a strange corpse that washed up on the beach.
The primary characters within “The Handsomest Drowned Man in The World” are the villagers and Esteban. It could be argued that either of them is the protagonist, or that the villagers or a certain group of villagers are the antagonists of the story. This would probably not be incorrect, but it makes just as much sense as any other opinion that the Villagers serve as both the antagonist and protagonist of the story. Esteban is little more than a prop. While he does serve to move the story along, the story belongs to the villagers. They are the ones stuck in a rut in their tiny, isolated village. While they desire change, they are also the ones who for so long prevented themselves from achieving change. This is how they also serve as the antagonist. They are their own enemies in this story, and they are also their own heroes at the end when they resolve to change their village for the better.
A person may have to read the story several times before they begin to grasp the point of Márquez’s story. On the surface, it’s a little confusing, and people might be left wondering how on earth any woman could be so smitten with a dead body or why they would go to all the trouble of sewing clothes for a stranger they were just going to toss right back into the ocean that spat him up. On further review, however, it may become more obvious to a person reading this story that the dull, flowerless village represents the hum-drum parts of life that we do not really like but do not do much about to change. People just accept the way things are and go about their lives as if there is nothing that they can do to change them. The drowned man is nobody special, but Esteban is an inspirational figure who represents a different kind of life. The women both envy those who got to be around him in his life while pitying him and the hardship his large size must have caused him,. They compare their own men to a dead man they never knew and find them lacking. The idea of Esteban makes them desire more from their lives. They are no longer satisfied with the hum-drum. They want the greatness that Esteban’s great size represents. The women are quick to desire change. The men are more resistant to Esteban and did not fall prey to his appeal until near the very end of the story. They symbolize those who are complacent, who accept the status quo and are resistant to change.
The overall theme of the story would then be “change” and all that’s related to it such as accepting change in your life and doing the work required to make those changes possible. The villagers changed their entire village around the idea of Esteban. They planted flowers to beautify the streets and to catch the eye of passing ships. They also began to build their houses larger to accommodate a man as large as Esteban. Esteban made them aware of their faults and their village’s fault, and after his funeral, they sought to fix them. It would be likely, if this were more than just a story, that the changes extended beyond pretty flowers. More than once the women seemed unhappy with their men compared to Esteban so changes may have taken place within the people themselves and their relationships.
It is possible to interpret “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” differently each time it is read. There is no clear-cut protagonist or antagonist, and while change is a recurring theme of the story it would be easy to take something entirely different away from the story. For example, with a dead man taking on such a central role, a reader might focus on ideas of mortality within the story. Regardless of secondary themes and ideas within the story, though, it can likely be generally agreed upon that Esteban serves as a catalyst of change for the villagers.