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The Themes and Symbols of Ernest Hemingway's After The Storm

After The Storm: A Short Story by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was one of the most influential and celebrated writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his novels, such as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, but he also wrote many short stories that showcase his mastery of prose and his exploration of themes such as war, love, death, courage, and masculinity.

After The Storm Ernest Hemingway.pdf


One of his lesser-known short stories is After The Storm, which was first published in 1932 in a collection called Winner Take Nothing. It is a brief but powerful tale that depicts the aftermath of a hurricane in the Florida Keys, where a diver named Harry Morgan searches for a sunken treasure on a wrecked ship. In this article, we will summarize the story, analyze its themes and symbols, examine its literary devices and style, and discuss its historical and biographical context, moral and ethical implications, critical reception and legacy.


Summary of the story

The story begins with Harry Morgan waking up on his boat after a storm has passed. He sees that the coast guard has left the area, and he decides to take advantage of the situation by diving for a treasure that he knows is hidden on a sunken ship nearby. He has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, ever since he heard from a dying sailor that there was a fortune in gold coins on board the ship.

He puts on his diving suit and helmet, and lowers himself into the water. He finds the ship easily, as it is marked by a buoy. He enters the ship through a hole in its side, and makes his way to the captain's cabin, where he expects to find the treasure. He sees a skeleton lying on a bed, holding a revolver. He ignores it and searches for a metal box that contains the gold coins. He finally locates it under a pile of clothes, but as he tries to lift it, he realizes that it is too heavy for him to carry alone.

He decides to go back to his boat and get some rope to tie around the box. He leaves the cabin and swims towards the exit hole. However, as he approaches it, he sees another diver coming in. He recognizes him as Johnson, a rival treasure hunter who has been following him for months. He realizes that Johnson must have seen him dive and followed him to the ship.

Harry panics and tries to escape, but Johnson blocks his way. They struggle underwater, fighting for their lives. Harry manages to grab Johnson's knife and stab him in the chest. Johnson lets go of Harry and sinks to the bottom of the ship. Harry swims out of the hole and reaches his boat. He takes off his helmet and breathes fresh air.

He feels relieved that he has killed Johnson and secured his claim to the treasure. He thinks about how he will spend his money and how he will be rich and happy. He decides to go back to the ship and get the box with the rope. He puts on his helmet again and lowers himself into the water.

However, as he nears the ship, he sees something that horrifies him. The buoy that marked the ship has been cut off by someone else. The ship has drifted away from its original position due to the current. Harry has no way of finding it again. He has lost the treasure forever.

He swims back to his boat, feeling devastated and hopeless. He curses himself for being greedy and foolish. He realizes that he has wasted his life chasing a dream that was never meant to be. He thinks about how he has killed a man for nothing, and how he will have to face the consequences of his crime. He wonders what he will do with his life now. He feels empty and alone.

Themes and symbols

The story explores several themes that are common in Hemingway's works, such as:

  • The futility of human endeavors: Harry Morgan is a typical Hemingway hero, who pursues a goal with determination and courage, but ultimately fails to achieve it due to forces beyond his control. He represents the human condition of striving for something meaningful and valuable, but being thwarted by fate, nature, or other people. His quest for the treasure is symbolic of his search for happiness and fulfillment, but he ends up losing everything he has worked for and risking everything he has left.

  • The destructive effects of greed: Harry Morgan is driven by his greed for the treasure, which blinds him to the dangers and costs of his actions. He ignores the moral and legal implications of stealing from a sunken ship, killing a rival diver, and lying to the coast guard. He also neglects his family and friends, who depend on him for their livelihood. He sacrifices his integrity and humanity for a materialistic and selfish goal, which ultimately proves to be elusive and worthless.

  • The contrast between appearance and reality: The story contrasts the surface appearance of things with their underlying reality, creating a sense of irony and disillusionment. For example, the storm that Harry Morgan waits for seems to be a blessing, as it clears the coast guard from the area and gives him a chance to dive for the treasure. However, it turns out to be a curse, as it also causes the ship to drift away from its original location and makes him lose the treasure. Similarly, the treasure that Harry Morgan seeks seems to be a source of wealth and happiness, but it turns out to be a source of trouble and misery. It is also ironic that Harry Morgan kills Johnson for the treasure, but ends up losing both the treasure and his life.

The story also uses several symbols to convey its themes and messages, such as:

  • The storm: The storm represents the unpredictable and uncontrollable forces of nature that affect human lives. It also symbolizes the turmoil and conflict that Harry Morgan faces in his quest for the treasure.

  • The ship: The ship represents the past and its secrets. It also symbolizes Harry Morgan's hopes and dreams, as well as his downfall.

  • The treasure: The treasure represents Harry Morgan's greed and obsession. It also symbolizes his false sense of value and happiness.

  • The skeleton: The skeleton represents death and decay. It also symbolizes the fate that awaits Harry Morgan if he continues to pursue the treasure.

Literary devices and style

Hemingway is known for his distinctive style of writing, which is characterized by simplicity, clarity, precision, and economy. He uses short sentences, simple words, concrete images, and minimal description. He avoids using adjectives, adverbs, metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech. He relies on dialogue, action, and implication to convey meaning and emotion. He follows the principle of "showing" rather than "telling".

Some of the literary devices that Hemingway uses in this story are:

  • Foreshadowing: Hemingway uses foreshadowing to hint at what will happen later in the story. For example, when Harry Morgan sees the coast guard leaving the area after the storm, he thinks: "This was what he had waited for." This foreshadows that he will dive for the treasure soon. Similarly, when Harry Morgan finds the skeleton on the ship, he thinks: "He wondered how long ago it had been." This foreshadows that he will die soon too.

  • Suspense: Hemingway creates suspense by withholding information from the reader or delaying its revelation. For example, he does not reveal what Harry Morgan is looking for on the ship until he finds it. He also does not reveal who Johnson is until he confronts Harry Morgan on the ship. He also does not reveal what happens to the ship until Harry Morgan tries to find it again.

Analysis and interpretation

Historical and biographical context

The story was written and published in 1932, during the Great Depression, a period of economic crisis and social unrest that affected millions of Americans. Hemingway himself was experiencing financial difficulties and personal troubles at the time. He had moved from Paris to Key West, Florida, with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer, where he struggled to find inspiration and motivation for his writing. He also suffered from various injuries and illnesses that affected his physical and mental health.

The story reflects Hemingway's own interest and experience in diving and treasure hunting. He had learned to dive in Cuba in 1928, and had explored several shipwrecks in the Caribbean Sea. He had also heard stories of sunken treasures from local fishermen and sailors. He was fascinated by the idea of finding a fortune under the sea, and he incorporated it into his fiction.

The story also draws on Hemingway's personal history and background. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899, to a doctor father and a musician mother. He grew up in a conservative and religious environment, where he developed a love for nature and adventure. He served as an ambulance driver in World War I, where he was wounded and awarded a medal for bravery. He worked as a journalist for various newspapers and magazines, covering wars, revolutions, bullfights, and other events. He married four times and had three sons. He traveled extensively around the world, living in different countries and cultures. He wrote several novels and short stories that earned him critical acclaim and popular success. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 for his overall contribution to literature. He committed suicide in 1961, after suffering from depression, alcoholism, and chronic pain.

Moral and ethical implications

The story raises several moral and ethical questions that challenge the reader's judgment and values. For example:

  • Is it right or wrong to steal from a sunken ship? Harry Morgan believes that he has a right to claim the treasure that he finds on the ship, as he considers it abandoned property that belongs to no one. He does not care about the legal or moral implications of his actions, as he thinks that he deserves the reward for his efforts and risks. However, one could argue that stealing from a sunken ship is wrong, as it violates the law of salvage, which states that anyone who recovers property from a shipwreck must report it to the authorities and share it with the original owners or their heirs. Moreover, stealing from a sunken ship could be seen as disrespectful to the dead, as it disturbs their resting place and robs them of their belongings.

  • Is it justified or unjustified to kill for a treasure? Harry Morgan kills Johnson for the treasure, as he sees him as a threat and a competitor who wants to take away what he has worked for. He acts in self-defense and survival instinct, as he thinks that Johnson would kill him if he had the chance. However, one could argue that killing for a treasure is unjustified, as it violates the sanctity of human life and the principle of nonviolence. Moreover, killing for a treasure could be seen as futile and foolish, as it does not guarantee success or happiness.

  • Is it wise or foolish to pursue a treasure? Harry Morgan pursues the treasure, as he sees it as a source of wealth and happiness that would change his life for the better. He is motivated by his greed and ambition, as he wants to have more than what he has. However, one could argue that pursuing a treasure is foolish, as it is based on a false sense of value and happiness that does not last or satisfy. Moreover, pursuing a treasure could be seen as dangerous and harmful, as it exposes one to risks and costs that outweigh the benefits.

Critical reception and legacy

The story received mixed reviews from critics when it was first published in 1932. Some praised Hemingway's skillful use of lan