Study Guide

The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World Versions of Reality

By Gabriel García Márquez

Versions of Reality

The men who carried him to the nearest house noticed that he weighed more than any dead man they had ever known, almost as much as a horse, and they said to each other that maybe he'd been floating too long and the water had got into his bones. (2)

Right away we see that the villagers use myths to explain the unknowable in reality.

Not only was he the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best built man they had ever seen, but even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination. (3)

The drowned man is incompatible not only with the reality of the village, but its mythic structures as well.

They thought that if that magnificent man had lived in the village, his house would have had the widest doors, the highest ceiling, and the strongest floor, his bedstead would have been made from a midship frame held together by iron bolts, and his wife would have been the happiest woman. (4)

The women of the village imagine the life the drowned man would have lived. How much of the their speculation seems plausible?

They were wandering through that maze of fantasy when the oldest woman, who as the oldest had looked upon the drowned man with more compassion than passion, sighed:

"He has the face of someone called Esteban." (4-5)

Notice that it is the oldest woman who gives the drowned man his name. It's as though the drowned man is some ancient mythological figure from another time, a figure that a wise individual can readily recognize. Remember that mythology is propagated by the passing of stories from older generations to younger.

After midnight the whistling of the wind died down and the sea fell into its Wednesday drowsiness. (7)

Real details such as the day of the week contrast with the highly unrealistic nature given by the story's mythological influences.

There could be only one Esteban in the world and there he was, stretched out like a sperm whale. (11)

This is a great example of the mythology-reality dichotomy in this story. In the realm of the myth, Esteban is a great, one-of-a-kind figure. But in reality, he's too cumbersome and large to fit in to village society.

Some sailors who heard weeping from a distance went off course and people heard of one who had himself tied to the mainmast, remembering ancient fables about sirens. (12)

The drowned man has now endowed the villagers themselves with mythological qualities. (See "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more.)