The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World Analysis
by Gabriel García Márquez

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Whether children could grasp the occasionally long Faulknerian sentences in this story is debatable, but they could probably follow the switches of voice within the sentences better than adults. The switches of voice reflect the villagers’ thoughts, including what they think the corpse is thinking; this complexity is all subsumed and remarkably controlled by the humorous voice of the omniscient narrator, who makes it seem like child’s play. The style is known as García Márquez’s Magical Realism, made famous in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The style also features exaggeration (as in the size of the corpse here) and imaginative thrusts (“the men began to feel mistrust in their livers”) that now and then verge into fantasy.

It is certainly fantasy that the drowned man’s corpse does not stink, a fantasy that enables García Márquez to construct a symbolism of smells reminiscent of the one in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” (1930). Although Faulkner is perhaps the greatest influence on García Márquez, here the pupil reverses the master. Whereas Faulkner’s story begins with a strong smell and ends with a decayed corpse, García Márquez’s story begins with a remarkably preserved corpse and ends up smelling like roses. The symbolism typifies García Márquez’s style, his gift to the world.

Historical Context

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Political Background
During the period of European imperialism following Columbus's arrival in the New World, Colombia's indigenous tribes could offer little resistance to Spanish conquest. For the most part, these tribes amalgamated (intermarried and lived together in society) with their Spanish conquerors. Consequently, much of the Colombian population consists of mestizos—people of both native Colombian and Spanish origin.

A former part of the Spanish colonial empire named New Granada that gained its freedom from Spain in 1810, Colombia suffered from several civil wars throughout the nineteenth century. By the mid-1800s Liberals and Conservatives comprised the opposing political groups that would subject Colombia to frequent and bloody revolutions. Severe fighting reached its height between 1899 and 1903, a period known as the War of a Thousand Days. During this time there was a continuing separation between wealthy elite landowners, often of European descent, and freed slaves and indigenous populations whose lands had been confiscated and redistributed. Meanwhile, Colombia was struggling to grow its export trade, which consisted largely of coffee, petroleum, and bananas, under Conservative leadership.

Social Policies
The Depression of the 1930s meant severe economic hardship for Colombia due to its growing dependence on exporting goods whose worth plummeted on the world market. The Conservative government in power at this time was replaced by Liberal president Alfonso Lopez, whose biggest reform was a move to redistribute land from wealthy landowners who were not using their land productively to peasant "squatters" who depended on their plots for subsistence. The Depression also meant an increase in domestic industry, since competition with imported goods was significantly reduced. Assisting Colombia's poorest residents has been an ongoing concern for Colombian government, particularly during Liberal administrations.

La Violencia
Opposition between the Liberal and Conservative parties in Colombia has been extremely hostile and violent. This confrontation escalated during the period between 1948 and 1962 known as La Violencia. Although initially sparked by the assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, much of the following fifteen years of fighting was caused by existing hostilities between the two parties. Some 200,000 people lost their lives in the fighting, much of which involved extreme acts of cruelty to the victims.

La Violencia involved a wide spectrum of Colombians's concerns. Peasants who had improved their land under the 1930s land reform found that they were required to pay exorbitant legal fees to...

(The entire section is 3,606 words.)