When it comes to the villagers in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World", the first thing to consider is the location of the village itself: it is a little coastal town. The ocean, so vast and unlimited, is the only vehicle through which the villagers can connect to the rest of the world if they willfully make the effort of traveling. Other than by will, the villagers are otherwise isolated and at a remote distance from everything and everybody. As a result, their lives are evidently repetitive, predictable and, essentially, limited.
They did not even have to clean off his face to know that the dead man was a stranger. The village
was made up of only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers and which
were spread about on the end of a desert like cape.
This being said, the rendering of the drowned man at the shore of the town signifies perhaps the first contact in a long time with something that is foreign, different, and unexpected. It also represents the town's re-discovery of its own identity through the embrace and treatment of this new "member" of the community.
Not only does the drowned man receive a name, "Esteban", but he is also given a complete characterization. He is given a story, as well as a history; he is adored and admired by all, and their imaginations run wild with possibilities about this strange and new creature.
They could see him in life, condemned to going through doors sideways, cracking his head on
crossbeams, remaining on his feet during visits, not knowing what to do with his soft, pink, sea lion
The fascination with which the villagers care for the man is indicative of their need to nurture and build upon something new; this need is, itself, also indicative of a hunger for change and of a desire for creativity, and expansion. Therefore, "Esteban" is the unifier of a town who had grown so used to itself that it had forgotten its identity. The love and devotion that they dedicate to Esteban is a return to the values that hold their identity as a community together.