It is because of his size and handsomeness that the drowned man is originally characterized as great. The villagers attribute all sorts of non-physical qualities to him – like modesty, humility, and compassion. The interesting thing is that all of these qualities are manifested in his looks. Márquez sums it up best when he writes, "the hidden strength of his heart popped the buttons on his shirt" (7).
As we discuss in the "Character Analyses," it's important to consider the general mindset of the villagers upon the arrival of the drowned man. In one sense, it's not a leap for the villagers to believe in the mythic possibilities of the drowned man, because they are superstitious in the first place. They worry that the wind will carry off their children; they suspect that the drowned man is so big because he kept growing after death, or so heavy because the water got into his bones. We need to understand this aspect of the villagers in order to make sense of their reaction to the drowned man, their suspicions that he is Esteban, and their willingness to change completely on the basis of his arrival.