“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and “The Drowned Giant” by J.G. Ballard
Write a comparison of “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” and “The Drowned Giant”, commenting in detail on the ways in which the authors use language to convey their respective themes. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and “The Drowned Giant” by J.G. Ballard are both short stories written with similar plots but explore extremely different themes. In this essay, I am going to compare the theme, plot, setting, language choices and stylistic effects between the two short stories and how all these relate back to the theme itself.
The themes of the stories are totally different. They are both about how societies react to the external world and exotic things, but the meanings are exactly the opposite. In Marquez’s story, an exotic drowned giant was found on the beach next to a poor, small village, but soon accepted into their homes and loved by the people with respect and pride. Since the village men had no knowledge of anything beyond their small area of nearby villages, their horizons were extremely narrow and had never seen such a beautiful man before, so he was treated as God and even gave him an identity and buried him in the nicest way they could offer. Because of the large drowned man, the village men had realized the ugliness of their own society and how simple and plain lives they lived.
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The drowned man here brought inspiration and change to the village with no ambition, no dreams and no knowledge about the outside world-and motivated them, bringing ‘colour’ to their lives and making them realize how simple, plain and uncivilized they lived and gave them faith and hope and inspiration to a brighter future and a way to civilize themselves and their society. In contrast, in Ballard’s story, the theme is completely different. A gigantic, enormous giant the size of a ship had appeared next to the city but also on the beach. The giant was much huger in size compared to Marquez’s story, but he was never accepted into society. The crowds of people, except for the narrator never believed in what they saw and took him as some joke and amusement. The crowds took no respect to the giant and climbed all over him and destroyed him. After the excitement wore down, no one cared about him anymore and was left there to rot.
The giant was never accepted and was always treated as an outsider and the people rejected any humanity of him. In this story, the theme Ballard explored is that people in civilized places see amazing things happening every day, but it is always ignored and prefers the old, lazy and boring life, no one prefers any change to doubt their knowledge and society. Society needs something to have faith in, to inspire us and give us hope, but in Ballard’s story, the change was rejected. At the beginning of the story, the settings of the two stories are very similar, but tell different details on the setting. Marquez described the first children who found out about the drowned man “let themselves think it was an enemy ship”, then “a whale” and at last, they realized that it was “a drowned man”. These tell us that the village people were often threatened in survival. The descriptions were made to stresses the size of the drowned man-this conveys the exoticness of the drowned man to the children but could be still recognized as “man”.
In Ballard’s setting, “a drowned giant has washed ashore on the beach five miles to the city”. After the news, people at first “remained skeptical” and after “eye-witnesses”‘ confirmation, people only started to go and have a look. These different descriptions are made to convey the difference in society and that the city people did not believe it at first, this relates back to the theme of how they lazy to accept anything that could change their daily lives. The first reactions of the men in both stories were similar. In Marquez’s story, the village children were frightened as they thought it was like an “enemy ship” or “whale”. Similarly, in Ballard’s story when the crowds first arrived to see the giant, they were also “reluctant to approach the giant”. This proves the first reaction to exotic things is the same at the beginning for everyone.
In Marquez’s story, the villagers were simple and uneducated and were superstitious as well as religious: “they said he’d been taller than all other men because there was barely enough room for him in the house, but they thought that maybe the ability to keep on growing after death was part of the nature of certain drowned men”. “Not only was he the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best-built man they have ever seen, but even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination.” This tells us that the men were simple and their horizons were narrow and that as they simply have never seen people outside their village or neighbouring villages.
The village men survived because of the sea, so they respected it: “there was so little land that mothers always went about with the fear that the wind would carry their children and few dead that the years had caused among them had to be thrown off the cliffs.” This tells us that because the sea gives the village people life, so that’s why they respected it, and respected things coming from the sea, in this case, the giant. However, in Ballard’s description, the beach symbolized leisure and recreational area, which relates back to the theme that they took the giant-like amusement. In Ballard’s story, the crowds were first “the spectators” and only watched, as they were fearful to approach. But when the fishermen approached the drowned giant, they were “waving to us like tourists”.
This clearly shows that the crowd had no compassion towards the dead giant and does not recognize any humanity of him. In contrast in Marquez’s story, the people changed their daily routines and “the women stayed behind to care for the drowned man”. Later on, the crowd in Ballard’s story approached closer and closer, as once other people have done it, they all overcame their fear and later on when “a group of youths had climbed up on to the face and were jostling each other in and out of the orbits”, everyone started “clambering over the giant”. This also relates to how society sees exotic things, when it is no longer fresh to them, they do whatever they like to ruin it. They did not believe that they really saw an enormous giant in front of them, they only took the giant as a joke, rejecting all humanities of the giant, giving no respect to the dead giant.
Only the narrator saw the true beauty of the giant and took it as a drowned giant human being. Ballard constantly emphasized the size and the beauty of the giant: “drowned leviathan”, “largest sperm whale”, “Grecian profile”, “Roman copy of Praxiteles”, “resemblances to monumental sculpture”, “moribund colossus”, “pearl-coloured skin”, “enormous muscles”, “massive composure”, “delicate arches of the nostrils and eyebrows invested the face with an ornate charm that belied the brutish power of the chest and shoulders”. All these phrases are describing the beauty and size of the giant. Clearly, the narrator was the only one who recognized the compassion, beauty and humanity of the giant. The beauty and the giant were emphasized so many times by Ballard that the narrator of the story really saw the beauty and majesty of the giant and that the power, strength and vigour were still visible to him although the giant was dead.
The size and beauty were mentioned constantly because to convey that the narrator really could not understand why the people were so blind that they could not see it. Only the narrator was to “touch the pendulous lobe” and searching the giant for answers to the world he came from and his backgrounds, but the crowd all scavenged all over. The reason why Ballard used the word “crowd” and not names of the people because the people were not behaving at all like individuals; rather, they were behaving like scavengers, because as soon as one person approaches the giant, they all do the same and sooner or later, “at least two hundred of them standing on the giant”, “circulating in a ceaseless melee”, “straddled the nose”, “crawled into one of the nostrils”, “covering the arms and legs like a dense flock of gulls sitting on the corpse of a large fish”.
These similes and metaphors described the “crowd” and not individuals because the narrator was disgusted by the way they behave-not as individuals at all, but like scavengers. Ballard has used all these descriptions to emphasize back the theme, how the society’s lack of understanding and care was because in cities people live such good lives that they did not need to care about anything and so they reject any change. However, in “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”, people lived such simple and harsh lives that they had to care about all changes as it broadens their horizons to the outside world and gives them motivation: “could not find a bed in the village large enough to lay him on nor was there a table solid enough…nor the shoes of one with the biggest feet”
This conveys that people were “fascinated by his huge size and his beauty” because they never had seen anything so big and beautiful, and realized how small and ugly they were themselves and how simple and restricted their lives were. This is why the giant became the hero of the village he inspired the imagination of the people and made them think of things they never thought before like the drowned giant will be such as “thinking that for all their lives theirs were incapable of doing what he could do in one night”, as they compared their husbands with the drowned giant. The eldest woman said: “he has the face of someone called Esteban” and this even gave the drowned giant identity. Instead of Ballard’s story, the village women in Marquez’s story had so much compassion over ‘Esteban’ that “tears opened in their hearts” as they thought about the life ‘Esteban’ would live. They also felt a great sense of ownership by saying “Praise the Lord, he’s ours!”.
They loved the drowned man so much that even the men had shared emotions as the women and “were left breathless too” after they saw him. Marquez wrote all these to again emphasize the significance of the drowned man appearing and giving faith and hope to the uncivilized village people. This was why the village people were so grateful for ‘Esteban’ because he made ‘colour’ in their lives and opened up their lives and imagination. However, in “The Drowned Giant” by Ballard, Ballard described the narrator making visits after his first visit. On the second visit, the crowd was “considerably smaller”, as they gradually lost interest and did not care about any change, instead preferring their usual boring lives. The description of “more expressly heroic posture” was to symbolize the giant starting to decay, but: “continued to fascinate me” as the narrator still saw the personality of the drowned giant there. However, only the narrator was the one who saw it.
Later on the narrator’s next visit, there were “fewer than fifty or sixty people” but at the same time “the giant had been carried still closer to the shore”. The narrator still saw him as a “magnificent Homeric statue” and “drowned Argonauts or heroes of the Odyssey”. Once again Ballard’s language choices describe the beauty and Godlikeness of the giant, although it was decaying, the crowd lost interest and most of them went back to their boring lives, ignoring the majestic masterpiece and rejecting the giant. On the narrator’s next visit, “his right hand and foot had been removed” for “Fertilizer Company and a cattle food manufacturer”. Later on, another foot was cut, and soon after “a foul smell enveloped the cadaver”, then “each of the limbs was chopped off”, etc. All these descriptions Ballard has made were to convey that the story was divided into the narrator’s visits, as time passes, the giant has washed further ashore and made closer to the city. However, the closer the giant got, the blinder the people got.
No one in society has accepted the fact of reality and no one was willing to accept something to doubt and change the society. Ballard’s language choices emphasized the aberration of the people in the society and that they would rather take easy paths and cover themselves with delusion. But in the end, “several months later…various pieces of the body of the dismembered giant began to reappear all over the city”. Even though the giant was dismembered, the city people were still defeated by its beauty and majesty, as they found his bones “too difficult to crush” and other parts they could not use. The giant was never accepted into the society, the other way he was accepted into the city was changing him into something else like “confused with the jawbones of a whale”. No one ever believed in their eyes of what they saw or didn’t care or didn’t bother believing:
“The irony is that it is wrongly identified as that of a whale, and indeed most people, even those who first saw him cast upon the shore after the storm, now remember the giant, if at all, as a large sea beast.” This clearly refers back to the theme, that no one in society has accepted the giant, the closer the giant got to the city, the blinder the public gets, so at last, when the giant found its way into the city, the citizens saw it as something else. No one dared to doubt their own knowledge or society and rejects faith and change even though they see it every day with their own eyes. In absolute contrast, ‘Esteban’ in Marquez’s story has found “a father and mother from among the best people, and aunts and uncles and cousins so that through him all the inhabitants of the villages became kinsmen.” Marquez also significantly described this as the drowned man had so great power over these simple men that he united them as one family.
At last, when they finally let the dead body go, the village people even took him as an absolute alive being: “so that he could come back if he wished and whenever he wished”. The drowned giant was treated like God as he made the village changed from now on: “wider doors, higher ceilings, stronger floors”, etc, etc. Referring back to the theme, the drowned giant in Marquez’s story brought a hundred percent chance, as he gave the people the power to imagine and motivation. He deserved to be treated as God as society needs something to have faith in, otherwise, nothing will motivate, inspire and give hope. Here, ‘Esteban’, “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” brought change faith and hope to the once simple, small and poor society. In this essay, I have compared the different types of language choices and how they conveyed their two similar plots but extremely different respective themes.