Study Guide

The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World Summary

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The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World Summary

"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" opens with a group of children playing on the beach of a small fishing village. In the waves a "dark and slinky" bulge is approaching. It turns out to be a drowned man, covered in seaweed, stones, and dead sea creatures. The men head to neighboring villages to see if the dead man belongs to one of them, while the women clean off the body and prepare it for a funeral.

Before we go any further, there are some things you should know about this small fishing village. It's a coastal, cliff-side town, a "desertlike cape" "with no flowers," and so little land that the inhabitants have to throw their dead over the cliffs and into the sea rather than bury them in the ground. The inhabitants are a simple group of people, who believe in myths as strongly as what they see with their eyes. It's such a small village, that the all the men combined fit into seven boats, and there are only about twenty houses among them all.

Now back to the tale. While the women work on the drowned man's body, they quickly find that he is the biggest, strongest-looking, most virile, and handsomest man they have ever seen in their lives, or could ever imagine. They conclude that he is a man named Esteban, and when the men return with the news that no neighboring towns can claim him, the women weep with joy that he is now "theirs."

The men don't understand what all the fuss is about until the women show them the drowned man's face. Then they, too, are in awe at his handsomeness, his masculinity, and his size. While they admire the drowned man, they think that he must have been ashamed of his size in life, and must have felt awkward on account of it.

Together, the villagers prepare a splendid funeral for the drowned man. When they finally let his body go over the cliff and back to the waves below, they all know that their lives have been permanently changed. They know that they will build their houses stronger and bigger, so as to be big enough for a man like Esteban. They will paint their walls brighter and plant flowers, so that some day, when the ships pass by their town, they will look at the bright, beautiful, fragrant town and say, "that's Esteban's village."

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