(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Southward from New Orleans, one passes settlements of many nationalities and races. Beyond lie the islands of Grande Pass, Grande Terre, and Barataria, and farther south still is the modern resort of Grande Isle. On the northwest side of each island are signs of the incessant action of the wind and sea, for the trees all bend away from the water. The coast and island beaches all exhibit the evidence of hurricanes—broken tree trunks and skeletons of toppled buildings.

Forty miles west of Grande Isle lies desolate Last Island, once the most popular of the group, and a fashionable resort. Its hotel had been a two-story timber structure with many apartments, a dining room, and a ballroom. One night, years before, the sea destroyed the hotel. Thanks to a veteran ship’s pilot, the narrator hears the story one evening on Grande Isle and relates it in turn.

It has been an unusually lovely summer, and the breathless charm of the season has lingered. One afternoon, however, the ocean begins to stir, and great waves hurl themselves over the beaches, suggesting that a hurricane is brewing. The wind rises. The steamer Star is due, but the residents of Last Island fear that it will not arrive. Nevertheless, Captain Abraham Smith has chosen to sail the Star to the island; he sees the storm rising as he approaches. The hotel guests, heedless of the approaching calamity, continue to dance until the water runs over their feet and the waves begin to buffet the building. Smith spends the night rescuing as many people as he can, but the destruction is total, and by daybreak countless corpses float on the stormy sea.

Fisherman Feliu Viosca and his wife, Carmen, live on a tiny island. On the night of the terrible storm, Carmen is awakened by the noise. Afraid, she rouses her husband, whose calmness comforts her, and he tells her to return to sleep. In her dreams, her dead child—dark-eyed Conchita—comes to her.

The next day, fishermen gather along the shore to see the wreckage and the floating bodies. A flash of yellow catches Feliu’s eye, and he strips and swims out toward a child, still alive, clinging to...

(The entire section is 882 words.)