Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

Oct 2010

(Short Story) The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

(Reaction) Breathing Beauty by: Ms. Pickles

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Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's short story entitled "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" situates its themes of awareness and self-improvement in the underlying irony of the role of death as the purveyor of beauty and new beginnings. The arrival of the drowned man in the bleak, "desertlike" village enables the townspeople to recognize the desolation of their lives and community and empowers them to start life anew amidst beautiful surroundings with better, greater dreams.

At the beginning of the story, the women in the village regard the drowned man in a seemingly routine, uninvolved fashion, treating and cleaning him just as they would any drowned man run aground on their land. However, when they finish cleaning him up, they discover the magnificence of his beauty and size, which render all of them "breathless." The drowned man's beauty and size are too great for the women's imagination, indicating that they are simple people who perhaps have never come across such magnificence. Its presence in their simple, stark lives is alien and too great for them to comprehend, but otherwise greatly appreciated for it stirs their imagination and provides them with passion.

They then compare the drowned man to the men in their lives, who seem to be the "weakest, meanest, and most useless creatures on earth" in terms of their failure to match the beauty, size, and supposed strengths and authority of the drowned man. This recognition of flaws in the male community members indicates their dissatisfaction in their attributes now that the drowned man presents them with an ideal. The irony of the dead man's role in the story as the quintessence of what the men ought to be is thus presented, until the oldest, and perhaps the wisest, woman in the group humanizes the drowned man, thus enabling the townspeople to recognize and venerate him as one of their own.

The oldest woman "looked upon the drowned man with more compassion than passion" and proclaims that "[h]e has the face of someone called Esteban," an attribution that humanizes him. This leads the women to think about the flaws inherent in his beauty and size, which must have encumbered him when he was still alive. Through this realization, the women recognize that Esteban, as he was now being referred to, "is so much like their men"-that is, imperfect and essentially human. Only through these realizations does Esteban appear completely dead in their eyes. The humanization of their ideal allows the townspeople to recognize that bigger and greater things have a place in their human world, and this leads them to acknowledge the "desolation" and "narrowness" of their lives.

Only in the presence of "the splendor and beauty of their drowned man" do the townspeople "[become] aware... of the desolation of their streets, the dryness of their courtyards, [and] the narrowness of their dreams." This awareness inspires them to widen all that is narrow and enlarge all that is small, whether it is their doors, ceilings, or imagination, "so that Esteban's memory could go everywhere." The ironic role of death-of the dead Esteban's presence in the village-as that which breathes life and beauty into the townspeople's bleak existence, as paired with the humanization of the dead man as an ideal, displays the themes of awareness and self-improvement and their respective necessity in the mortal lives of those who are isolated from improvement and grandeur.


Still mulling it over.

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