In "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," how does the villagers' treatment of the man compare to the villagers' treatment of the old man in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"?
Both of these short stories feature supernatural individuals who burst into the lives of two separate villagers. However, what is fascinating is the way that the villagers react very differently to these individuals. In "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," for example, the enormous drowned man is given a name and a personality that causes the villagers to hold a splendid funeral for him and change their very way of living:
...they were going to paint their house fronts gay colours to make Esteban's memory eternal and they were going to break their backs digging for springs among the stones and planting flowers on the cliffs...
The villagers find in Esteban a mythic hero who gives them meaning and purpose in life. This is of course contrasted with the poor angelic figure in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," who is treated as little more than a freak, a curiosity that allow others to profit from him and to speculate about his identity. Elisenda, the wife of the family who comes to profit most from this angelic figure, is frankly relieved when he flies off at the end:
She kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.
The difference between these two men is explained by how Marquez challenges human attitudes. In the first story, he explores the human tendency to mythologise and find meaning in life through attaching stories and legends on to events and personages. In the second, he focuses on the way that humanity's desire to find meaning is often self-defeating and renders them ludicrous. So much attention is placed on the attempts of the villagers to explain the presence of the figure in their midst that the actual angel figure is almost ignored. Meaning, Marquez subtley argues, becomes too much of an end goal for humans when is some cases there is little meaning to be found in the complex events that befall humans in life.