Nuance in “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”

In a benumbing world, devoid of much refreshment, a felicitous moment in time can unite people in a cohesive bond and rejuvenate the world. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” weaves this idea masterfully. He does not use grandiose foretelling statements that march the reader right to the message, but beautiful poetic subtlety and tone. Marquez entices the reader to accompany him on the simplest of paths and offers the reader an alternately divine, yet real world. When the destination is reached, it is the seeds sewn within Marquez’s restraint that blossom into multi-faceted nuances. It would be difficult to discuss the story without the use of Marquez’s words because it is his words that evoke the magic that is the story. “Marquez is famous for his ability to . . . bring the dead to life, and to make even the cruelest fates a matter of course – all with utmost fluidity and believability” (Delbanco and Cheuse 538). Marquez portrays death as a visual aspect of the plot, characterized by the drowned body of a stranger that has arrived on the shores of a small coastal village. When “Wednesday[’s] dead body” “wash[es] up on the beach,” the main character is first revealed to the village children (Marquez 540, 538). Once the children remove the body’s mask of “seaweed . . . fish and flotsam,” they become aware that their curiosity is a dead man (Marquez 538). Marquez’s portrayal of the deceased character is mystifying yet innocent; relative to the quizzical and unassuming good nature of young children. Therefore, the children are unafraid and accept the dead man into their fold and spend the afternoon with their innocuous friend, “burying him in the sand and digging him up again” (538). Marquez’s use of irony and symbolism is important for the character’s introduction of the body as death. The washed up dead man should be a horrific sight, but Marquez paints the stranger in such a way that the children feel a natural inclination to be around him and make him a part of their games. This treatment allows the reader to accept death through the body without apprehension. When a member of the village happens upon the children playing with the deceased, the individual alerts the members of the village. The men who carry the body “to the nearest house” in the village notice the extraordinary weight and liken his mass to “a horse” (Marquez 538). Marquez nurtures the ironic and symbolic overtones with his description of the austere setting of the village: “Only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers . . . which were spread about on the end of a desertlike cape” (538). One would think that the village would be reminiscent of a lush, tropical coastal area. However, Marquez defies that notion, painting the landscape as desolate and mildly alludes to the conclusion of the story. Marquez reinforces the magical nature of the body’s presence as it is introduced to men and women of the simple village. To account for the body’s peculiarities, ideas swell in the village’s collective psyche, searching for reasons to explain the cadaver’s iconic proportions to their own. The men leave to search neighboring villages “to see if any of them will claim the dead stranger” (Wilson 80). While the women methodically clean the corpse with great care, allowing them to connect with the stranger on a deeper level (Wilson 80). Symbolically, the women are carefully peeling away layers of debris from the man in relation to their own lives. It is at this point in Marquez alludes the corpse to be a hero and foreshadows the “drowned man” as an impending epiphany (538). Now, Marquez’s style of magical realism is in full force. “The power of magic realism derives from the way it blends the fantastic and the everyday by depicting incredible events, supporting them with realistic details, and chronicling everything in a matter-of-fact tone” (Korb 87). When the women finish cleaning the body, they “see how awesome a man he is. He is the most supreme example . . .” (Wilson 80). With the women’s reactions, Marquez introduces an idea that intensive cleansing and self examination can initiate miraculous outcomes. He reiterates and heightens the sentiment as the women imagine a world where the renewed man “could call fish out of the sea and make flowers grow on the dry cliffs” (Wilson 81). The grandiose stranger has now taken on god-like, would-be savior qualities and the women name him Esteban. However, “their own men [who are not cleansed and renewed] . . . suddenly seem the weakest, meanest, and most useless people” (Wilson 81). Esteban’s deification rejuvenates the women, creating a positive change in the way the women think about their world. Before Esteban “there was no room for [such grandeur] in their imagination” (Wilson 81). When the tired village men return at dawn to say there was no one to claim the stranger, the women rejoice, “He’s ours!” (Marquez 539). Having spent the entire night on an odyssey to neighboring villages, the men are weary. They want to heave the heavy stranger up the cliff, anchor him down and toss him into the sea before the day gets too hot. But the women want to prolong the grace of Esteban’s presence to prepare his body with elaborate tokens and ornamentations for the journey into afterlife. Finally, the men have had enough of the women’s indulgence with Esteban. Marquez artfully introduces the conflict between the now envious men, doting women and their hero, Esteban. The frustrated men “explode . . . since when has there ever been such a fuss over a drifting corpse, a drowned nobody, a piece of cold Wednesday meat” (540). The women are pained to see their divine Esteban portrayed so poorly by their men. The women want and need the men to share in their vision of Esteban. A woman then lifts the handkerchief from Esteban’s “face and the men [are] left breathless” (Marquez 540). Now, the veil has been lifted, intrinsically reuniting the men and women; the entire village to the promise of Esteban’s grace.Marquez now multiplies the universal effect of Esteban’s perpetuity. The women go forth to neighboring villages to collect flowers and spread the miracle of Esteban’s favor. When the women tell the tale of Esteban to the neighboring villages, it creates a chain reaction attracting more flowers and more followers to the cape “until there were so many flowers and so many people that it was hard to walk about” (540). Marquez has now united the whole of the villagers’ world as they participate in the communion of Esteban’s farewell. Marquez elicits the reader to understand that a metamorphosis is taking place. The whole of the villagers are coalesced in their desire to maintain a deep and abiding connection to Esteban. They choose a family lineage, a blood line for Esteban “among the best people . . . so that through him all the inhabitants of the village [become] kinsmen” (540). When it is Esteban’s time to return to the sea, he is not shackled with anchors. He is free to return to the villagers at will. With Esteban’s departure, the villagers of the cape understand how devoid of beauty their barren existence has been. Most of all, they realize “the narrowness of their dreams” (Marquez 540). They vow to work excessively hard to re-create their world in the glorious import of Esteban. For years to come, those who would sail by would know that the bountiful, flower filled cape is “Esteban’s village” (Marquez 540). Marquez’s treatment of the idea of the “drowned man” as death and as savior blends pagan and religious mythologies in an effort to make the tenants of the story relatable to everyone. He parallels the empty and desolate nature of humans with the formerly stark environment of the village. His story speaks loudly that being vigilantly conscious and open to alternative thinking, in an instant, life as it is can change for the better. Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” is a story of redemption and the quest for renewal in the narrowness of society’s imagination. In essence, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s village of Esteban is the real world.Works CitedDelbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. “Literature: Craft and Voice.” New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 538. Print.Korb, Rena. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World: Short Stories for Students.” Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. p 87-90. St. Johns River Community College Libraries LINCCweb.org. Web. 21 Sep 2010.Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” Literature: Craft and Voice. Eds. Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. p 538-540. Print.Moore, Djemlah. “Literary Analysis: The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” Helium.com. Helium, Inc., Web. 23 Sep 2010.Wilson, Kathleen. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World: Short Stories for Students.” Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. p 79-93. St. Johns River Community College Libraries LINCCweb.org. Web. 21 Sep 2010.