The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World
What’s Up With the Ending?
In "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," we talk about the flowers which crop up noticeably at four different points in the story. First, we hear that the village is flowerless. Next, the women imagine that the drowned man would have planted flowers everywhere if he were alive. At the funeral, the village is filled with flowers the women brought from neighboring villages. And finally, there is the vision the locals have of their future, where their homes and courtyards are filled with flowers, springs, and bright colors.
What this shows us is that the villagers have been completely transformed by the arrival of the drowned man. Before he showed up, they were content. They didn't think about digging springs or planting flowers or painting their houses bright colors. They were an arid, desert-like village, and they were fine with being they way they were.
The drowned man is, on his own, an extraordinary thing. Remember, he's "the tallest, strongest, more virile, and best built" man they've ever seen (3). But that doesn't have anything to do with the ordinary village – not, that is, until they claim him for their own. When the men return to announce that no one can claim the drowned man, the women exclaim: "Praise the Lord […]. He's ours" (7). This is why, at the funeral, the women weep when they look upon "the splendor and beauty of their drowned man" (12). He belongs to them.
By belonging to the village, the extraordinary drowned man makes that village extraordinary. Or rather, he gives them the possibility of being extraordinary. He makes them look at their own lives in the light of his greatness. What they find when they look is "the desolation of their streets, the dryness of their courtyards, the narrowness of their dreams" (12). This new possibility of greatness takes root in the villagers. Notice that we end the story not with the funeral of the dead man, but with the rebirth of the village. We end with a vision of the future:
They did not need to look at one another to realize that they were no longer all present, that they would never be. But they also knew that everything would be different from then on, that their houses would have wider doors, higher ceilings, and stronger floors so that Esteban's memory could go everywhere […], because they were going to paint their house fronts gay colors to make Esteban's memory eternal and they were going to break their backs digging for springs among the stones and planting flowers on the cliffs. (12)
It's also worth taking a look at the final few sentences, where we see that it is indeed this sense of being worthy of Esteban that has so inspired the villagers:
In future years at dawn the passengers on great liners would awaken, suffocated by the smell of gardens on the high seas, and the captain would have to come down […] and, pointing to the promontory of roses on the horizon, he would say in fourteen languages, look there, where the wind is so peaceful now that it's gone to sleep beneath the beds, over there, where the sun's so bright that the sunflowers don't know which way to turn, yes, that's Esteban's village. (12)
Remember from our discussion of "Narrator Point of View" the story is told in a limited omniscience. We are stuck in the minds of the villagers, though we do get to jump from villager to villager (the children, the women, the men, etc). This final paragraph is not something that actually happens in the text; it's what the villagers are imagining will happen some time in the future. Notice that this vision doesn't come from any one local in particular; Esteban unites the villagers, who now share this common vision for their common future. Together, they are going to make themselves extraordinary.