After the Storm Summary
by Ernest Hemingway

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After the Storm Summary

(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 anchor to use as a tool and goes back under with it, but he cannot hold on to the grapple. Next he lashes his wrench to a pole and tries to use it to get into the porthole, but the wrench slips from the lashing and sinks to the bottom. He is forced to abandon for the time his attempts to penetrate the ship. He speculates that the liner must have had five million dollars’ worth of loot on it. He wonders why there are no sharks in the vicinity.

When he gets back to port, he learns that the fellow he cut with his knife is all right except for his wounded arm. He is placed under a five-hundred-dollar bond for his part in the fight, but some of his friends perjure themselves and testify that the wounded man had come after him with an ax and that he had acted in self-defense, so he is not held culpable. The weather is foul for all the next week, and by the time he is able to return to the site of the wreck, “the Greeks had blown her open and cleaned her out. They got the safe out with dynamite. . . . She carried gold and they got it all. They stripped her clean.”

The narrator speculates on what must have happened on the night of the storm. The night was too wild for anyone to be out on deck. The ship, out of Havana, could not make port. The captain was trying to get through a channel and missed it by only a hundred yards, but what the ship hit was quicksand. Probably the captain ordered the ballast tanks opened, and when that happened, the ship went down. The boilers then likely exploded, killing many of the 450 passengers on board as well as all the crew. Those who did not die in the explosion soon drowned.

The reader is told that the hull, which is still there, is now inhabited by huge jewfish, some weighing three to four hundred pounds. The narrator complains that he was first at the wreck after the birds, but that the Greeks got all the booty. He reflects, “even the birds got more out of her than I did.”

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 entire section is 1,138 words.)