The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World
by Gabriel García Márquez
Make that "Magical Realism squared." As we talk about in our Overview, Márquez is the master of this genre. He helped launch it to fame with his novel 100 Years of Solitude, and "The Handsomest Drowned Man" follows suit.
So what is magical realism? As you might expect, we're talking about a mix between realism and magic. In this story, magic meets realism when the drowned man, a figure of mythic proportions (literally), arrives at the ordinary village from the edge of the sea. It's important to note that we're not talking about fantasy here; the story operates on the same basic rules that our real world does.
When you think about it, nothing unrealistic happens in this story. A dead body washes up on shore, and the villagers decide to hold a funeral for the drowned man. Yet there are elements of the fantastic to be found in this very real world. The dead man seems, somehow, to be enormous, magnificent, something from another time or reality. And the villagers, rather than skeptically reject this possibility as unrealistic, are more than accepting of the idea. Sometimes, in real life, fantastic things happen.
And that's exactly what's so darn cool about this genre: the fantastic is made into the possible. When we read "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," we don't find ourselves saying, "That's impossible!" or "That would never happen!" We suspend our normal rational senses. The world Márquez creates is close enough to reality for us to identify with it, but not far enough to become preposterous.
Everywhere in the story we can find this blending of the real with the magic, or more specific to this story, the mythological. The drowned man is a shade of several different mythological figures (see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory"), but he's also just a dead "piece […] of meat," a "big boob" who's too clunky to even fit through doorways. The setting of the village seems to be magically transformed by the dead man's arrival, and yet Márquez keeps reminding us that it's Wednesday. Wednesday is something we can relate to; it's ordinary and it's part of the normal world. Generally, mythology doesn't have realistic details like this. Imagine Homer writing that Odysseus sailed home to Ithaca…on a Tuesday afternoon around 3:20. See what we mean?