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Kate Chopin's The Storm: When Nature and Love Combine
Kate Chopin's "The Storm" is an often overlooked gem in the literary canon. While Chopin's novella, The Awakening gets more attention and analysis, The Storm packs in many interesting elements and shocking details in a few short pages.
Written as a sequel to her even lesser known "At the Acadia Ball," the story dares to use the imagery of nature and the violence of an afternoon storm in the Louisiana bayou to symbolize Calixta's own untapped passion and prowess as a woman.
Following is a summary of the store and an analysis of Chopin's (pronounced Show-pan) use of imagery in nature to talk about taboo subjects.
Summary of "The Storm"
- Section I
The story opens with Calixta's husband, Bobinot, and son, Bibi, at the store on errands. They are watching a storm roll in and decide that they will have to stay until after it is over.
Bibi worries about whether his mom will be scared of the storm or not but Bobinot assures him that she'll be just fine since Sylvie is helping her.
But Bibi points out that Sylvie is not there today because she helped yesterday.
Bobinot does not reply but instead goes over and purchases a can of shrimp which will be a gift to Calixta when they get home.
- Section II
At home Calixta is sewing and barely notices that the storm is coming. Once she notices, she goes around the house to close the windows and then to gather the clothes outside that are drying on the line.
A man named Alcee Laballiere rides into the yard and the story indicates that she knows him though " she had not seen him very often since her marriage, and never alone."
He asks if he can seek shelter at her house until the storm is over and she indicates that he can.
At first it is awkward between the two of them but then a lightning strike near the house frightens Calixta and she jumps into his arms. Once she realizes what she has done, she backs away.
Chopin notes that after Alcee had touched her:
At this point the reader begins to realize that Alcee and Calixta knew each other before and must have had some type of feelings for one another.
He asks her if she remembers Assumption (in West New Orleans) where they had kissed.
She falls into his arms and then, as the storm rages around them, they make love on the couch.
After the storm ends Alcee realizes that he must leave because Bobinot will be home soon. As he is riding away he turns around and smiles and "she lifted her pretty chin in the air and laughed aloud."
- Section III
When Bobinot and Bibi head home, they stop at a cistern to clean themselves up so that Calixta won't scold them for being muddy.
Calixta is preparing supper like nothing happened.
She greets them and says she was worried about them during the storm and is glad they are okay.
She is excited by the shrimp that Bobinot brings her and the scene closes with them laughing around the dinner table---the picture of a happy family.
- Section IV
The scene changes to Alcee writing a letter to his wife Clarisse, telling her how much he loves her and that she should stay in Biloxi longer if she is happy.
- Section V
Clarisse receives the letter and thinks that maybe she will stay there a bit longer since it seems to "restore the pleasant liberty of her maiden days." She also realizes that while she likes her husband, she really doesn't enjoy making love to him.
Chopin ends the story with this:
Using Nature To Talk About Love
One of the more interesting aspects of Kate Chopin's 1898 short story is her use of nature imagery to talk about taboo subjects such as love making and affairs outside of marriage.
As the storm begins to build, it is a foreshadowing of Calixta and Alcee's own building (yet unacknowledged) desire for each other. It also provides a perfect opportunity and reason for Alcee to come inside the house.
As the storm grows in intensity, their feelings of passion for each other grow as well.
Chopin notes that Calixta and Alcee "did not heed the crashing torrents and the roar of the elements....as she lay in his arms."
The height of the storm coincides with the climax of their own love-making. And as the storm recedes, they lay together on the couch.
Chopin dares to not only sensationalize the love scene between Alcee and Calixta but she uses the details of nature to mirror the act of love making itself---in a scene that's still a little shocking even by today's standards.
Chopin also dares to pull a role reversal on the reader, with Calixta inhabiting the traditional male role and Bobinot the role of the female.
To understand the role reversal, it is important to understand how strong the patriarchal, male-dominated culture was in 1898. Women were to be wife and mother. They were to be virtuous, chaste and demure. They were to take care of the domestic sphere and the children. Their job was also to please their husbands and worry about his happiness and well-being.
Males were the heads of the house. They took care of the finances and held careers or ran the farm. They were seen as virile, strong and invincible. Because they were so virile it was less surprising if a man was not completely chaste or monogamous.
Without any hint of irony or ceremony, Chopin throws the whole patriarchal system into question.
Bobinot is the one that is at the store, shopping. He is the one concerned about Bibi and about cleaning him up and presenting him to Calixta. He is as clueless as he is blind in his devotion to Calixta. The thought that she might have an affair has never crossed his mind.
Calixta, on the other hand is bold and virile and enters her relationship with Alcee with no hesitation, no guilt and no remorse. Through details, Chopin shows just how much she enjoys making love to Alcee. And at the end, she sees it for what it was---a fling of physical passion.
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Blame the Woman
Sometimes less sophisticated readers find themselves finishing the story and being angry at Calixta's flippant attitude and the way she shows no remorse for her affair.
She is happy to see Bobinot but she does not feel ashamed about what happened with Alcee.
But those readers who are angry at Calixta are falling victim to the old traps of patriarchal and gender roles.
Alcee committed the exact same act that Calixta did for he is also married. If there is a transgression he is just as guilty as she is.
But happiness and pleasure in love making and affairs has long been reserved for a man and at least is seen as forgivable. We're used to looking the other way with a wink and a nod.
So readers, even today, still react negatively to a married woman with a child feeling no remorse as she seeks physical pleasure outside the confines of marriage.
It's a double standard that Chopin dared to examine and expose over a hundred years ago!
Like Kate Chopin's other works, "The Storm" is ahead of its time.
Chopin examines the roles of marriage and the restricting nature of society's rules for women. She dares to break the rules with no show of remorse or regret.
While she faced censorship in her day, over one hundred years later, readers can find pleasure in her works and in the boldness of her characters and plot lines.