Study Guide

The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World Themes

By Gabriel García Márquez

  • Admiration

    "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.

    Questions About Admiration

    1. How many of the drowned man's admirable qualities are real, and how many are made up by the townspeople?
    2. Why do the villagers admire the drowned man so much? Why are his size and beauty so impressive?
    3. How does the worth of the drowned man change the worth of the small town where he is found?

    Chew on This

    When the villagers admire the drowned man, they are really just projecting onto him the qualities they find to be valuable.

  • Transformation

    "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.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. How does the drowned man's arrival change the village? Is this change for better, or for worse? We've spent quite a bit of time talking about the wonderful impact of the drowned man's arrival, but what about the negative consequences?
    2. Is the change that the villagers imagine in the last paragraph of the story possible? Do they really intend to carry it out, or is it mere fantasy?
    3. Consider the transformation of the drowned man. How does he change physically as the story progresses? More importantly, how does the village's perception of him change as they prepare for his funeral?

    Chew on This

    "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.

  • Men and Masculinity

    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.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. What values are decidedly "masculine" in this story? Which are "feminine?"
    2. Whom does the drowned man's arrival effect more – the men of the village, or the women?
    3. What qualities make the drowned man seem so manly? Who determines what these qualities are?

    Chew on This

    "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" operates on principles of archaic gender divisions; it is not relevant in the modern world.

  • Versions of Reality

    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.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. In talking about the theme of admiration, we asked which of the drowned man's qualities were real and which the villagers attributed to him out of wishful thinking. But in this story, what's the difference between these two? Is it clear, or is this distinction a blurry line?
    2. How do the villagers intertwine reality with myth when it comes to the drowned man? What sort of myths does the drowned man invoke, and how can these myths be reconciled with reality?
    3. Is the drowned man really Esteban? Does it matter who he is?

    Chew on This

    The beauty of this story is that the drowned man is Esteban, that myth is possible in a world of reality.

  • Isolation

    "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.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Does the drowned man create conflict in the village, or bring the village together? (Your answer might change depending on which part of the story you're examining.)
    2. How does the village's relative isolation from neighboring towns affect the way we read the story?
    3. Why is it so important to the women of the village that they claim the drowned man as their own?

    Chew on This

    The drowned man brings the village together by providing them with a common goal of communal betterment.