During the period of European imperialism following Columbus’s arrival in the New World, Colombia’s indigenous tribes could offer little resistance to Spanish conquest. For the most part, these tribes amalgamated (intermarried and lived together in society) with their Spanish conquerors. Consequently, much of the Colombian population consists of mestizos—people of both native Colombian and Spanish origin.
A former part of the Spanish colonial empire named New Granada that gained its freedom from Spain in 1810, Colombia suffered from several civil wars throughout the nineteenth century. By the mid-1800s Liberals and Conservatives comprised the opposing political groups that would subject Colombia to frequent and bloody revolutions. Severe fighting reached its height between 1899 and 1903, a period known as the War of a Thousand Days. During this time there was a continuing separation between wealthy . . . Read More
The arrival of a large drowned man on their shores inspires the imagination of the inhabitants of a tiny fishing village.
Point of View
The simplicity with which “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” is told conceals a rather complex narrative technique. The villagers, finding a drowned man on their beach, begin to admire and then love him as they prepare him for proper burial. The third-person narrator, however, only describes the man through the eyes of the villagers. It is their conceptualization of the drowned man, not any objective viewpoint, that the reader receives. Furthermore, the point of view shifts away from the villagers at certain times in the narrative, such as when the imaginary hostess worries about her chair and he “never knowing perhaps that the ones who said don’t go, Esteban, at least wait till the coffee’s ready, were the ones who later on would whisper the big boob finally left, . . . Read More
When a large drowned man washes up on the beach of a tiny fishing village, his presence inspires the villagers to create fantastic stories about him and to improve their own lives as well.
Myth and the Human Condition
“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” illustrates the collective human tendency to create myths. The form of the story makes clear that the “long ago and far away” setting of the story takes precedence over a reading of the story that places the village in an exact location or time period. Myths often center around heroic figures whose special powers or deeds create an ideal that members of that society may attempt to live up to. Esteban becomes such an ideal for the villagers, who are so inspired by him that they plant beautiful gardens and improve their homes “so that Esteban’s memory could go everywhere without bumping into beams.” Thus, this once dirty and diminished . . . Read More
Although he is a stranger—and a dead stranger at that—Esteban plays a central role in the villagers’ lives. He does not speak, yet his face and his body speak for him, telling the villagers how sorry he is to be such a bother, large and cumbersome as he is. They intuit that he is kind and considerate, yet authoritative enough to command the fish to jump into his boat when he is fishing. The women of the village find him “speaking” to them in other ways, making them compare their husbands to his splendid size and handsome features. His presence in the village forces them to examine their lives and to work together to beautify their village. Esteban exists, then, not in the body of the dead man the village children have found on the beach, but in the minds of the villagers themselves, who are inspired to better their lives.
The inhabitants of this tiny fishing . . . Read More
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” begins when the children of a small coastal village see an unfamiliar bulge in the sea. When it washes up on the beach they realize it is a drowned man. For the rest of the afternoon they play with the corpse until another villager sees them and tells the rest of the villagers. The men of the village then carry the body to the nearest house, remarking that he weighs almost as much as a horse. He is also taller than other men and barely fits in the house.
The tiny village sits on the cliff of a sparsely vegetated cape. The villagers twenty or so houses have stone courtyards in which no flowers grow. That evening the men travel to neighboring villages to see if any of them will claim the dead stranger. While they are gone the women of the village care for the drowned man, noticing that the vegetation growing on him comes from distant oceans and that his clothes are tattered. He also seems . . . Read More
A major figure of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Zora Neale Hurston published more books in her lifetime than any other African-American woman, spoke at major universities and received honorary doctorates, and was described in the New York Herald Tribune as being one of the nation’s top writers. Her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is widely considered a masterpiece today, and one of the most important works of fiction ever written by an African-American woman. Alice Walker insists in the foreword to Hurston’s biography: “There is no book more important to me than this one.” Yet Hurston died in poverty in 1960, and was buried in an unmarked grave. In an essay published in 1972, biographer Robert Hemenway describes her as “one of the most significant unread authors in America.” The following year, however, Walker traveled to Florida to find and honor Hurston’s grave. According to scholars Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sieglinde . . . Read More
Many of the fourteen profiles in “The Eatonville Anthology” open with a statement on the outstanding quality of the character they feature. This statement typically defines the character’s social status in the community. Whenever this introduction focuses on a negative quality, the narrator defends the character’s negative trait with a modification or explanation. With this strategy the narrator signals acceptance of each individual and describes the response of the community. In general, the people of the town are amused and entertained by the eccentric characters being described.
The vignettes in Hurston’s “The Eatonville Anthology” collectively reflect the powerful sense of community found in areas where certain cultural groups fight for existence within a larger dominant culture. The African-American, Latin-American, and Asian-American cultures are examples of the many cultural . . . Read More
Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Eatonville Anthology” is comprised of fourteen short sketches which offer humorous commentary on lives of residents in Eatonville, Florida. Several characters, such as Joe Clarke, owner of the general store and Eatonville’s mayor and postmaster, and Elijah Moseley, appear in a number of the segments while many other characters appear only once.
In the first segment entitled “The Pleading Woman,” Mrs. Tony Roberts begs for food for her family. First she begs for meat from Mr. Clarke who is annoyed, because he knows that her husband is a good provider and she does not need to beg. She then visits various homes until she has collected everything she wants for the day. Apparently, Mrs. Roberts is never satisfied with what she is given. The narrator explains that the next day her begging continues.
In “Turpentine Love,” Jim Merchant’s love for his wife endures, explains the narrator, . . . Read More
“The Devil and Tom Walker” was published in 1824 in Washington Irving’s Tales of a Traveller. It is widely recognized as the best story in the book and the third best of all his tales (after “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”) Having established an international literary reputation, Irving had committed himself to a career as a professional man of letters, and the mixed critical reception that Tales of a Traveller received stung him badly. Modern readers of stories in this volume are often struck by the folk or fairy-tale quality of the narratives and by Irving’s evocation of an older American landscape rich in symbolic texture.
Irving’s career and work is best understood in the context of the enormous cultural and ideological changes transforming the new nation at the time. By the 1820s, the United States had concluded its second war with Britain, Lewis and Clark had already explored the West, and . . . Read More
A Young America
At the time Irving wrote “The Devil and Tom Walker” in 1824, the United States was a new and growing country. As the land was populated by various groups of European immigrants, a uniquely American culture slowly formed as the traditions of many different groups merged and new traditions, brought on by circumstances, emerged. In literature, writers such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, and Ralph Waldo Emerson published works that embodied the concepts of freedom, religious piety, and independence that characterized the country. By 1800, New York City was the largest city in the United States, but most of the West remained wild and unexplored. In 1826 the American Temperance Society was founded, giving a voice to those who were intolerant of alcohol consumption of any sort. In 1828, Andrew Jackson, a man known for his efforts to displace many Native American tribes, . . . Read More