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The Handsomest Drowned Man

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Marquez’s story is representative of the genre of magic realism. This type of work is very imaginative and fun-loving. It can also be meant as “pleasant realism” or a joke upon it, suggesting a new type of fiction–one where we can appreciate, learn, and grow. Basically, it is about a town that finds the body of a dead man wash ashore. He is a stranger to those parts, and being the people they were, the townspeople decide to look more into the person. The men try to find his town, while the women help to clean him up. They realize he is unlike someone they have ever seen–large, massive, and handsome. They create a fixed reality around him, imagining how their lives would have been if he was alive and if he lived in their town. Finally, they decide to let go of the body, and they do so in an elaborate manner. Although the story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” contains many examples of magic realism, two examples of this genre come in the introductory paragraph and in the conclusion. With all the magic realism in this story, many questions arise in the reader’s mind about how things occur and why things happen in the story.

First of all, one example comes from the type of diction used, as seen in the introductory paragraph. In the paragraph Marquez uses his imagination to talk about fantasy, creating reality. Rather than just telling the audience that a dead body washed up ashore, he lets them explore their creative senses, saying they “[thought] it was an enemy ship,” and then “they thought it was a whale,” until finally, they realized what the inanimate object was (180). The introduction to the whole narrative is magic realism because it “somehow manages to combine the truthful…with the magic effects we associate with myth, and folk tale” (180). Also, upon referring to children, the subtitle of this story is “A Tale for Children.” I believe that this is a type of magic realism in itself because the story is more about how hope and belief grows among adults and a town, not just the children, but it is interesting to believe that since the children discovered the body, the story is dedicated towards them. The reader has to become childlike to appreciate the story because they have to be able to look past the set preconceptions of life and reality. The reader also has to be able to imagine and pretend. This story is much like a fairy tale – adults and people without the ability to imagine, cannot see the innocence, love and compassion of the townspeople or character because they have lost that sense. To appreciate the story appropriately, the reader has to become childlike and put their selves in the townspeople’s shoes to see the symbol that Esteban became for them.

Another example of magic realism comes in the last and concluding paragraph of the narrative. In this scene, the townspeople, who have grown to love the dead body (whom they have named Esteban), have decided to bury Esteban and give him the “most splendid funeral” an abandoned drowned man would have. This situation is very real and life like, but as Marquez continues on, elements of the tall tale and folk story come in. He describes how there were “so many flowers and so many people that it was hard to walk about” (1000). He also describes how the townspeople went to such extents as to choosing a mother and father, aunts and uncles, cousins and kinsmen- all for mourning the dead abandoned man. And, to go on, Marquez adds that “the sailors who heard the weeping from a distance went off course and people heard of one who had himself tied to the mainmast, remembering the ancient fables about sirens” (1000). These kinds of details intensify a serious situation, and add the element of fiction and magic to the description.

The drowned man became a legend and a person to whom all loved and adored, bringing the community together. Even though the name they gave him, Estaban, comes from the Spanish word for Stephen, the first Christ martyr in history, from this name the reader can see what an impact the drowned man has had and how much respect and reverence the people hold for him. His arrival changes their lives because they become less selfish and more compassionate. He brings them closer together as they all love and wail over the one same thing-him. And ever since he is gone again- his remembrances still remain because he is a heroic figure to them.

This story provoked many questions about understanding the story. The story brought my attention and made me wanting to read more on what was going to happen next. For me, as a young adult reader, the main thing that I questioned was how did the drowned man wash ashore if it was clear he had been far away and not near the village? Another thing I didn’t understand is the way the body still intact? This didn’t seem realistic if he had been dead so long. Also, why was the town so curious and why didn’t they just bury him? I also questioned the way the townspeople handled the body- it didn’t seem possible. The way the townspeople whole-heartedly made him a part of their likes was also something I thought was awkward. He was dead. Why would they do such a thing? Finally, if they were so in love over him and he was their hero- why did they have a funeral for him and throw him back in the sea instead of keeping him?

Marquez’s style of writing is typical to his childish beliefs as he grew up: that ghosts lived in his house. This manifestation is represented in the magic realism that he writes about. His story contains specific examples, two being in the beginning and ending paragraphs. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” itself can also be another example of magic realism. An instance of this is the idea of a town finding a dead body at shore. People may clean the body and then dispose of it once again, but not with the detail or to the extent that the townspeople in the story did with Esteban. Because of the extent the author goes into, it made me question many ideas. The story toys with a realistic idea, adding facts mixed with fiction, tall tale, and folklore, to create a new genre of literature–magic realism.

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