The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World

by Gabriel García Márquez

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How does "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" use magical realism, and how does the villagers' treatment of the drowned man compare to their treatment of the old man in "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"?

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In the short story "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" by Gabriel García Márquez, children discover the body of a large drowned man on the beach. When the adult villagers become aware of him, they carry him up into the village. They try to find out who he is and whether he is related to someone in their village or another nearby village. The women clean him up and, after discovering that he is so big that nobody's clothes fit him, sew pants and a shirt for him. Everyone notices how handsome and strong-looking he is, which endears him to them and causes them to want to give him a proper funeral. They even make up a name for him, Esteban, and invent relatives for him so that he will be considered a part of the village. After all these preparations, they bury him by casting him off the cliff into the sea, which is their custom.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, magic realism is "characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction." In this short story, Marquez gives readers a realistic depiction of a poor seaside village. Into this setting, he injects the drowned man, who has a human-like appearance but at the same time is larger, more powerful, and more attractive than normal humans. In fact, he seems to be from a race of humanoids that could be called giants. This is the fantastic or mythical element that Marquez includes in this story that makes it magic realism.

Another example of magic realism by Marquez is found in the short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings." The stories are similar in that they both take place in poor seaside villages, and they involve strange fantastic humanoids suddenly appearing from the sea. In this case, an old man with wings is tossed ashore in the wake of a violent storm, and he is still alive. However, the ways that the two castaways are treated by the villagers are profoundly different. The old man with wings is treated with contempt, even though the villagers think at first that he might be an angel. He is thrown into a chicken coop, and then the family that owns the coop charges curious villagers money to view him. In contrast, in "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," the drowned man who washes ashore is treated with respect and even reverence by the villagers.

It's possible that the physical appearance of the two castaways made the difference in how they were treated by the villagers. The old man is unsightly and crawling with vermin when he appears, while the drowned man is so strong and handsome that he is considered beautiful.

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Magical realism, as the name implies, is a blending or mashing up of the magical, mythic, and fantastic with the realistic and is a genre most closely associated with Latin American literature.

In Marquez's story, the dead man whose body washes up on the shore of the village takes on mythic, larger-than-life characteristics that push the story into the realm of magic realism. He is not just a corpse that has happened to wash into a village, but a magical force that binds the community together and infuses it with new life and new hope. It is unlikely that a real community would have such a reverence for an unknown dead man, which is what makes the story magical and enchanting: it plays on our desire for a savior and for positive, enchanting experiences.

It differs from "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" in that in that story, the man with wings who arrives—the "angel"—is treated poorly. The priest decides he can't really be an angel, as he cannot speak Latin. The old man is penned up in a chicken coop and used as a circus attraction that people must pay to get a glimpse of. He is prodded with a hot iron and not treated with any reverence. Therefore, he cannot bring a blessing to this community.

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In "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," Gabriel Marquez uses magic realism. Magic realism is the literary technique that applies fantasy to ordinary events.

Works of magic realism mingle realistic portrayals of ordinary events and characters with elements of fantasy and myth, creating a rich, frequently disquieting world that is at once familiar and dreamlike.

In this story, it is an ordinary day in the community until the children find a dead man washed up on shore. The children are having fun burying him, digging him up, and reburying him. Although the day is ordinary, this man is far from ordinary. He is so big and tall and handsome, unlike the men who live in the area.

When the men and women learn of the drowned man, they take him to a house. The women begin sewing clothes for him for nothing the men own will fit him.

The magic and fantasy is in the mystery that surrounds the dead man's face. No one has any idea who he is or where he may lived. To make things even more interesting, the women begin planning a funeral for the drowned man. One of the local families adopts him as a relative. They mourn for him as if he is their son.

Things will never be the same in this community. Houses will have to be made larger and door ways taller in honor of Stephan. Yes, the local people name the drowned dead man. Obviously, this is the most exciting thing that has happened in long time.

The author's magic realism is evident in that the local community adopts a stranger as if he were their very own. The drowned man is worshipped because he is so big, tall and handsome. Ultimately, the people have a formal ceremony in honor of this drowned man. He creates an excitement and formality that is not a normal part of the village people's lives. For the few days he is with them, the village people have a fantasy fulfilled in that the most handsome man in the world has warmed their hearts. Everyone is in a dreamlike state, wishing the handsome man could stay longer.

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