Kate Chopin is one of the most famous American writers who are notable for her brave and bold depiction of sexuality in her stories. Adultery is one of the common themes that majority of her works include such as “The Storm” and “The Awakening”. In her short story, “The Storm”, Chopin illustrates the “naturalness” and “positivity” of adultery and sexual reawakening in marriage. Her straightforwardness in questioning moral and social issues through her stories gained her many criticisms and at the same time followers. However, it is also important to note that discussing and elaborating the issues of sexuality and infidelity can also question the effect of such works to its readers. Clearly, Chopin seems to discard, if not forget, the fact that majority of her readers are women and wives. Her subject and message can, therefore, affect their views towards fidelity and even cause shallow interpretations.
Brief Biography of Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin was born as Kate O’Flaherty in a time when women were still widely considered and treated as mere objects of pleasure to men. Being born in the middle of 19th century, she was accustomed to living with widowed women such as her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother (Wyatt). This family setup seemed to have affected her daring and unconventional views towards marriage and religion. As a student, she excelled in her class in the Sacred Heart Academy and even delivered a commencement address on her graduation. She is recognized today for “her pioneering examination of sexuality, individual freedom, and the consequences of action—themes and concerns important to many contemporary writers” (Enotes). Her intellect and critical thinking enabled her to see the world around her in a much non-traditional and non-conformist way.
Brief Summary of The Storm
Kate Chopin wrote “The Storm” as a sequel to “At the ‘Cadian Ball”. The story is set in a small town where a heavy storm arrives and it is divided into five parts that narrates in an omniscient point of view. It starts with Bobinôt shopping at Friedheimer’s store with his four-year old son, Bibi. Before they could finish buying the grocery items that they have come there for, a violent storm takes place preventing them from going home. They decide to stay at the store for a while and wait for the storm to cease. Meanwhile, the second part switches to the house where the Bobinôt’s wife, Calixta is sewing while waiting for her husband and son to come home. At first, she was unaware of the heavy storm outside because she is busy sewing on her sewing machine. Then she suddenly feels the house darkens so she hurries out to collect her husband’s Sunday clothes which she had hung outside to dry. As she steps out of her house to get the clothes, Alcée Laballière, her former lover, arrives at the gate and asks if he can stay for a while until the storm stops. Calixta invites him in and suddenly their former passion with each other is ignited in the assonance of the turbulent storm outside. With the passing storm outside, they consummate their sexual desire with each other—desires which are unfulfilled with their own spouses. Afterwards, their lovemaking as well as the storm stops. They bid each other goodbye with smiles on their faces. The third part of the story shows Bobinôt and Bibi arriving back home where Calixta welcomes them with exuberance and supper. The story then shifts to Alcée writing to his wife Clarisse telling her that she and the baby can stay at Biloxi for another month if she likes. Clarisse, in the fifth part is described to be “charmed” with her husband’s generosity and feels happy to stay for am month longer. The story ends as the storm ceases and all the characters happy (Chopin).
Literary Analysis of Kate Chopin’s “The Storm”
The central point of Kate Chopin’s story is the idea that adultery has produced a positive effect on the separate married lives of Calixta and Alcée despite their affair. As Chopin ends the story with the statement “So the storm passed and every one was happy” (Chopin, 110), she also illustrates that adultery is not always immoral and wrong. It can have other favorable effects such as the realization of two married people of how they should appreciate the married life where they are currently committed to.
According to Seyersed, “In ‘The Storm.’ there is exuberance and a cosmic joy and mystery as Alcée and Calixta become one with another and with elemental nature” (qtd. in Lamb and Thompson, 89). The element of nature, therefore, plays a major role in the symbolism of the story. It is noticeable that the story introduces Calixta initially unaware of the coming storm. It somewhat symbolizes the character of Calixta as a sexually repressed wife. Like the storm, she appears with silence and softness but would then turn aggressive and wild as her sexuality is aroused by Alcée. It is also quite remarkable that the author made use of a passing storm to trigger the sexual desires in the characters of Alcée and Calixta. The storm generally represents and symbolizes problems and predicaments. In this story, the storm which symbolizes their sexual encounter could easily be dismissed as one great problem if both Calixta and Alcée become troubled by their conscience or if Bobinôt ever finds out about the affair. However, Chopin treats the issue as somewhat a tool to fulfill the marriage of the former lovers and to enable them to see their own separate marriages in a new and positive light.
Domestic restrictions and feminine restraints have always been the prevailing themes in Chopin’s works. Women are usually and initially depicted as dutiful and loving wives whose lives are empty due to gender inequality. In “The Storm”, Chopin describes Calixta’s role as a wife by introducing her sitting beside the window, sewing. “She sat at a side window sewing furiously on a sewing machine” (Chopin, 105). Using an adverb such as “furiously” to describe such activity illustrates the skill of Calixta as a woman accustomed to immense domesticity. Chopin aims to show the readers the kind of woman Calixta is—a hardworking and dutiful wife and mother who attends to household chores intently. This is probably nothing new to readers of Chopin especially to female readers who are also accustomed to such tasks at home. It is truly something that women often do. One cannot expect a man to be left in the house with an approaching storm sewing. The imagery produced is that Calixta is the traditional woman until Chopin shocks her readers with the infamous twist of adultery.
The description of Calixta and Alcée’s encounter outside her house already foreshadows sexual tension between the two of them. It is not stated at first that they had been lovers before. However, the narrator tells that, “She had not seen him very often since her marriage, and never alone” (Chopin, 105). This reveals that there must be something going on between the two “before the marriage”. The author also gives emphasis that they never had an encounter by themselves revealing that this is the first time that they have a chance encounter alone. This brings awkwardness on the part of the characters which insinuates further sexual tension between the two. “His voice and her own startled her as if from a trance, and she seized Bobinôt’s vest” (Chopin, 105). Alcée must have felt the tension as he tried to remain outside probably for fear of what might happen inside; however, “it was soon apparent that he might as well have been out in the open: the water beat in upon the boards in driving sheets, and he went inside, closing the door after him” (Chopin, 106).
Inside the house, it is remarkable that a part of the narration gives focus on Calixta’s fine physical appearance. The description of her body is structured in such a way that displays her like an object of desire which is quite in contrast to how one would initially picture her as motherly in the first part of the story. This is probably also how she appears to be in the mind and eyes of Alcée as it notes the difference five years ago and now.
She was a little fuller of figure than five years before when she married; but she had lost nothing of her vivacity. Her blue eyes still retained their melting quality; and her yellow hair, dishevelled by the wind and rain, kinked more stubbornly than ever about her ears and temples (Chopin, 106).
The deliberate late revelation of the characters’ former relationship demonstrates passion in a sudden way which shows that it has probably been a long time since they had their own sexual desires ignited. “The contact of her warm, palpitating body when he had unthinkingly drawn her into his arms, had aroused all the old-time infatuation and desire for her flesh” (Chopin, 107). Their sexual encounter is the primary focus of the story as the narration succeeds in providing vivid details of the nature of their lovemaking. “The generous abundance of her passion, without guile or trickery, was like a white flame which penetrated and found response in depths of his own sensuous nature that had never yet been reached” (Chopin, 108). This statement illustrates the lack of sexual fulfillment on the side of Alcée’s marriage to Clarisse.
According to the Oxford Book of Women’s Writing in the United States, Chopin chooses to avoid conformity and reveal the other side of what people would often deem as morality. “She stubbornly refuses to buy into a sexual double standard, and, instead of a woman , being punished for her sexuality, in this story, everyone is better of the two people who engage in a burst of extramarital passion as a storm rages outside” (Wagner-Martin and Davidson, 568). In addition, it is notable that the controversy created by the story attracts more women readers who are sexually restricted themselves. “[Chopin] also provide a broad discussion of a society that denied the value of sensuality and female independence” (Enotes). Chopin was able to pave an avenue for women to contemplate on their own inner struggles with their sexuality as she ends the story with “So the storm passed and every one was happy” (Chopin, 110). The ending concludes that the adultery committed by the characters became beneficial to their own married lives. It became a tool that enabled Calixta and Alcée’s to renew their views and opinions about their marriage.
The controversial element of adultery in Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” has apparently attracted many readers. However, it cannot be held responsible for influencing extramarital affairs in the United States because it simply suggests another side of the issue which is worth discussing. As a writer, Chopin used her literary skills to post questions about moral and gender issues which are usually overlooked in the society such as women’s sexuality. In a sense, her story is merely a metaphorical representation of how the society works in her time; therefore, it should not held her responsible for affecting people’s decision when it comes to the morality of her works. Actually, she portrays morality in her stories but in a somewhat personal and subjective perspective.