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The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World and Magical Realism

Updated on May 9, 2019

Painting Representation of the Story

The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World and Magical Realism

I decided to dabble in Gabriel Garcia Marquez because I am going through a magical realism phase in both my reading and writing life. Magical Realism paints a realistic view of the modern world while adding magical elements. What I love about this genre is how mundane its authors depict the world while interweaving magic and supernatural components to convey a deeper meaning. When reading this genre the author does not really “world build” which, in my opinion, adds a unique shock value whenever magic reveals itself. The world is as we know it and one the skills magical realist authors are measured by are their ability to creatively implement magic while otherwise staying grounded in the real world. Haruki Murakami’s Super frog Saves Tokyo is currently my favorite short story from this genre. It is the story of a banker who finds a giant frog in his living room. The frog enlists the banker to help him save Tokyo. At the core, the story is about banker and his emotional reaction to a devastating earthquake.

I stumbled upon Gabriel Marquez’ short story The Most Handsomest Drowned Man in the World in an anthology by R.V. Cassill and Richard Bausch. It is the story of a dead man that is washed to the shore of a small village. The villagers wash his body and prepare him for a proper burial. It is mostly the story of a mundane village except for the fact that the man keeps growing even though he is dead.

The people of the village take a few actions that really get at the heart of how magical realism uses some of the tools of other genres such as fantasy and mythology to depict humanness while remaining grounded in the real world.

The first thing they do is ensure the man does not belong to any of the neighboring villages. The drowned man takes on the role of a deity in the eyes of the villagers. The women treat him as such first, then the children and finally the men after getting over being jealous. I think Marquez unites envy and worship here because there is a natural selfishness in the things we love. We do not want to share our partners or our friends completely. We want to be special to someone and can become addicted to the joy they give us.

The villagers also bring flowers in an effort to beautify their village. The greatness of the drowned man ultimately unites the villagers and inspires them to be greater than they were before. They build doors and homes that are bigger so that he would fit in the homes if he ever came back to life. The man’s growth after death is commensurate with the fact that legends and myths continue to grow after death. Marquez references two mythological characters to drive home this point: Odysseus and Quezalcoatl. By becoming this larger than life character the man unites the villagers. The story appeared set on a religious theme of inspiration, but after reading it a few times over I think it is about humility. There must be something greater than us that we can strive to either become or join. The envy of the men that becomes admiration, the flowers the women bring, and the unity of the community by the end of the story all lead to a common theme of humble before the eyes of greatness.

Uko Tyrawn Okon


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