The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World | Study Guide

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World | Themes


Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

The way the characters—and by extension the readers—see the drowned man shifts often over the course of the story. Initially, the children see him as an enemy ship, then a whale, and finally a plaything. The adults see him as a drowned stranger, but as the women clean him they begin to develop awe and then compassion for him, bestowing him with a name. By the end of the story, the drowned man is so beloved that he is adopted by the entire village, uniting "all the inhabitants of the village" as "kinsmen." García Márquez telegraphs this shift slowly through the course of the characters' actions, and in doing so he highlights how they begin to project a story and a personhood upon this stranger, eventually coming to regard him as someone beloved and mythical. Through this process of transformation, García Márquez hints that it is human nature to create a subjective story about people and events, both in stories and in their own lives.

The Legacy of Compassion

The way the people of the town see the drowned man shifts over the course of the story, and within that shift García Márquez highlights how creating a story about a person can induce compassion in humans. In a way, the story itself symbolizes how the act of reading a story about a person creates compassion in the reader. At the beginning of the story, the townspeople regard the drowned man with awe—the women imagine what he was like when he was alive and the things that he could have done with his size. They even compare the illusion of him to their own men, believing that in life the drowned man was far superior and that his wife would have been the happiest. Yet, as the women continue down the path of imagining the drowned man's life, they begin to conceive of how difficult it must have been for him to go through life with such an awkward size. Their compassion for him humanizes the drowned man in their eyes and leads them to create a funeral in which they believe his dignity is restored, as evidenced by him being "adopted" by a family.


Both the town and the townspeople undergo the potential for transformation by the end of the story, all because of the appearance of the drowned man. The town itself is depicted as dry, barren, and empty at the beginning of the story, but with the arrival of the drowned man, the imagination of the women begins to run wild, as they imagine that he was a man who could make flowers grow on cliffs. With the blooming of their imagination, awe, and empathy for the drowned man, so too does the town's conception of its possibilities begin to bloom. As the women gather a large amount of flowers for the drowned man's funeral—so many flowers that it becomes nearly impossible to walk—they imagine a future in which their houses are painted bright colors and their cliffs are covered in flowers that cause passing ships to slow down and point out that it is "Esteban's village."

It's important to note that García Márquez never hints that the townspeople were unhappy before the drowned man's arrival. Instead, the man's mysterious presence conjures up a sense of possibility for the villagers that hadn't previously existed. It may be the unlikeliness of the drowned man himself that sparks them to imagine something they've never created before—the drowned man is enormously tall and very handsome, which causes the women to imagine what his life was like. This in turn opens up their capacity for compassion toward him. Because he seems so unlikely, they are able to believe in what might have been an unlikely future. His extraordinary nature forces them to confront the possibility of unlikely things happening. At the same time, the transformation that occurs comes entirely from the townspeople's projections on the drowned man. He is a character who is never alive in the story, and both his past and his arrival remain a mystery. Because of this, he serves as a blank slate on which the townspeople project their hopes and dreams. The drowned man serves as a catalyst without having done anything at all.

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