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 village struggle daily in a harsh climate. Their strip of land is so narrow that there is not even enough room to bury their dead. The village is so small that the drowned man is immediately identified as a stranger, since “they simply had to look at one another to see that they were all there.” No one in the village is named, increasing the sense that they live and act as a group. The women respond to Esteban with care, then admiration, then longing, and finally, ownership. The men respond at first with irritation and jealousy, but gradually they too begin to feel compassion and pity. The solidarity of the villagers is borne out by the way that all of them take responsibility for Esteban just as all of them will eventually take responsibility for beautifying their village after he is gone. Garcia Marquez used the village of Aracataca and its people as loose models for this story, which also reflects his socialistic beliefs.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Published by Gale, 1997.