(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story opens with two men fighting over very little, something that has to do with making punch. One man is getting the better of the other by choking him. This man, however, manages to get his knife out, and he slashes the arm muscles of his attacker, after which he leaves the bar where the fight has taken place. He gets into his skiff, which is full of water from a recent storm, bails it out, and sails toward the open sea.

First he sees a three-masted ship that has sunk during the storm. He can see the stumps of the ship’s spars sticking out of the water, but the vessel itself rests in water too deep for him to have any hope of reaching it and claiming the salvage. Then he notices a huge congregation of birds in the distance. He sails toward them and eventually comes on the wreckage of the largest steamer he has ever seen. The ship is lying on its side in sand, some of it close enough to the surface of the water that he can stand on it and be only chin-deep in water. He can see rows of sealed portholes as he looks at the side of the ship down through the clear water.

He speculates on what riches the ship might have been carrying. After he tries unsuccessfully to break one of the porthole windows with a wrench tied to a pole, he strips and dives into the water carrying the wrench with him. He gets a grip on the edge of one of the portholes and tries to break the glass, but it will not yield. He can see through the window. On the other side is a dead woman, her hair floating languidly in the water.

He makes several dives to the porthole and succeeds only in cracking it. He cannot break it. His nose is bleeding badly from staying under the water so long and from diving so deep. He cuts the grapple from his...

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Extended Summary

First published in 1932, “After the Storm” is told by a first-person narrator, an unnamed sponge fisherman who is also the principal character of the story. Set in the Florida Keys circa 1930, the story begins with the narrator engaged in a fight with another man in a local bar. Although their dispute is trivial, the combatants go at each other with unrestrained ferocity. When his attacker seizes the narrator’s throat and begins to choke him, the sponge diver manages to pull out a knife, and he slashes his assailants arm. He then leaves for his small boat. He takes to the sea after bailing out the water that has collected in the craft from a recent storm.

As the narrator sails along the seacoast, he encounters wreckage from the storm. He first spies the masts of a ship that is partially submerged, but he reckons that it is too far below the waves for him to salvage it. He then notices a flock of gulls in the distance and heads toward them. He comes upon a large steamship that has run aground, and his mind immediately turns to the money and other riches that probably remain on board. He tries to enter the vessel through a porthole through which he sees a dead woman, her hair floating on the water. But he is unable to break through with the wrench that he carries. He undertakes several additional dives using different makeshift tools, but he is not successful and reluctantly abandons his quest.

When the narrator returns to land, he is told that the man he has stabbed is not gravely wounded. He is nonetheless arrested, but his friends in the tavern tell the authorities that his victim first came at the narrator with an axe, and this lie wins his release. A week-long bout of foul weather prevents the sponge diver from returning to the steamship. When he does finally reach it again, he finds that he is too late. “Greeks” have blown the ship and its safe open with dynamite, stripping the derelict liner of its riches. The narrator reconstructs the events that must have occurred on the night that it sank, taking 450 passengers and the ship’s crew to watery graves. He learns that an enormous jewfish now occupies the water beneath its hull. The story ends as the narrator bitterly recounts that the Greeks got the riches, the jewfish got a home, and that even the birds that brought his attention to the steamship “got more out of her than I did.”