"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" explores what it means for a person to be great, and what effect such a person can have on those who admire him or her. Admiration can be directed outward, but at some point, the story teaches us, it turns inward, toward the self, and manifests as a desire for self-betterment.
When the villagers admire the drowned man, they are really just projecting onto him the qualities they find to be valuable.
"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" explores the transformative effect of one dead man on an entire village. It argues that a truly great person has the power to change others, to inspire them to be better, to make them want to be extraordinary. It's interesting that, in this story, the villager's transformation originates entirely from within. The dead man is dead, after all, which means the villagers are responsible themselves and for the changes that they make.
"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" features three parallel and intertwined transformations: the drowned man's physical change, the change of the villager's perception of him, and the change in the villagers themselves.
Masculinity is narrowly defined in "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World." Size, strength, and attractiveness are all synonymous with masculinity in this story. However, non-physical traits like compassion, humility, leadership, and modesty are also associated with the notion of what it means to be a man. The highest ideal of masculinity is shared and admired equally by both men and women in this story.
"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" operates on principles of archaic gender divisions; it is not relevant in the modern world.
Through the genre of magical realism, this story explores the blurring between myth and reality. What happens when a larger-than-life figure meets the ordinary villagers of an unexceptional little town? "The Handsomest Drowned World" reminds us that we turn to myths as a way of explaining the unexplainable. There's something comforting about having stories that interpret and make accessible the unknown. Myth is also very much a collective experience, shared and carried on by a community.
The beauty of this story is that the drowned man is Esteban, that myth is possible in a world of reality.
"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" explores the ways in which human beings overcome personal isolation through their collective community. In this story, common beliefs in the mythic or fantastic bring together the members of a small fishing village. The men, women, and children of this community are united by their common desire for self-improvement. Together, they imagine a better future for themselves, a future in which they are as extraordinary as the myths in which they all believe.
The drowned man brings the village together by providing them with a common goal of communal betterment.