Kate Chopin: The Storm
Kate Chopin lived from 1851 until 1904. She was born Katherine O’Flaherty and was raised in post- Civil War St. Louis by parents who were on the upper end of society. She married Oscar Chopin, moved to New Orleans, and had six children. After her husband died, Chopin moved back to St. Louis to start her writing career at age 33. She incorporated many taboos about literature into her writing. Some of these taboos were female sexuality, struggles, and triumph over the stereotypes that had been placed on them over the centuries. She was a very popular writer until 1898 when she wrote about even more controversial issues in Awakening. Many people felt that her views were very feminist and her previously loyal fans quickly rejected her writings, causing her to not attempt to write anything more.
Chopin’s short story, The Storm, shows the reader some of the controversial issues she wrote about. It was written in 1898 and was one of the last stories that she wrote before Awakening. It tells of the struggles of one woman to find happiness and excitement in her everyday life. The reader really does not get much information on the relationship at the beginning of the story, but one can imagine that it was becoming monotonous and boring. The title itself lets the reader know that this storm is the result of a long chain of events that have built up over time, like a thunderstorm in the middle of the summer comes after many long days of intense heat. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss the events that lead to the apex of the ‘storm,’ the consequences that follow the decisions that are made, and how this short story could be seen as feministic.
The beginning of the story presents the reader with two male characters in a country store. It is a father (Bobinot) and son (Bibi) who are just about to leave and go home when they realize that a large storm is on the way. They mention that there is someone (wife/mother) waiting at home for them but they don’t put that much effort into attempting to get home. They seem to believe that everything will be all right if they just stay there and wait out the storm. These characters aren’t seen as uncaring, but more as unconcerned about the welfare of the mother. The only thing that they do that is seen as kind and thoughtful is when the father purchases a can of shrimps to take home for her.
The next section of the story shows Calixta, the mother, sitting at a window sewing. She isn’t concerned for the safety of her family and doesn’t realize that there is a storm approaching. Like many relationships, things may be going along just fine until ‘opportunity’ flashes, like lightening, and a decision has to be made that will change the future. Calixta’s opportunity is in the shape of a man named Alcee Lavalliere. He shows up at her gate as she is attempting to get her husband’s clothes off of the porch. He asks for shelter and Calixta offers to let him wait out the storm inside. She realizes that she hasn’t been alone with Alcee since she was married and feels the temptation that she knows she must suppress.
At this point, Chopin takes a little time from the action of the story to give a description of the house and especially the bedroom. She says about how Calixta and Alcee are in the dining room that adjoins with the bedroom that is described as dim and mysterious. Chopin is giving a sort of ‘hook’ for the rest of the story by giving these precise descriptions of the bedroom. The reader wants to know what will happen in that room and what the consequences will be.
Chopin then sets her characters in a classic ‘love scene’ next to the window. Alcee is standing behind Calixta. The action begins when lightening strikes a tree across the field and Calixta basically falls into the arms of Alcee. At first she pulls herself away from him and tries to evade his charms. She goes through an inner turmoil that is equal to none she has ever experienced before. She knows that she cannot morally betray her husband, but she knows that he will not be home until after the storm has passed, and there is virtually no way he would find out. She makes the decision to go with her emotions and give in to her desires.
When Calixta decides to give herself to Alcee, the action is switched to his point of view. This change of voice can be interpreted in two ways. The first way to look at it is as if Calixta’s feelings and emotions are unimportant. By focusing on Alcee’s feelings, Calixta’s seem to get pushed out of the way. However, it can also be seen as Calixta taking advantage of the situation and getting what she wants from Alcee. Chopin tells the reader of all these emotions that Alcee is going through that are filled with language of love and emotion, when there is actually no hope that there will be anything significant between Calixta and Alcee. Chopin is taking the stereotype of women as inferior and emotional and reversing it. She gives all these emotional, gushing feelings to Alcee and makes him the one who is going to become attached.
When Bobinot and Bibi return home from the store, they are very concerned about their appearance and try to clean up before they reach the house. However, Calixta is not concerned with their appearance and feigns that she is glad that they made it home. She is showing the classic signs of guilt by over-expressing and over-emphasizing everything she says and does. However, the trick is on the men who have no idea that anything has happened and go on with their lives just like nothing had even occurred.
Near the end of the story, the reader is allowed a glimpse of Alcee and his actual life. As it turns out, he has a wife and children and writes them a letter after his day with Calixta to tell them that he is doing okay and that they can stay on vacation longer if they are enjoying themselves. He does this because he feels that there will be something more between him and Calixta. He is a fool and doesn’t see that she ‘played’ him and used him to satisfy one of her desires.
This story could be seen as feministic for many reasons. The way that Calixta disregards her responsibilities to her husband and son and goes after what she wants is a great example of this. Also, she doesn’t get caught, had some fun, and her marriage wasn’t ruined. This is an example of how Chopin felt that women should take control of their lives and change them if they aren’t completely happy.
Kate Chopin was a great writer who wasn’t truly appreciated until years after her death. However, her views and ideas are still relevant in today’s society. I also commend her for expressing her views and feelings even though she knew that the public would disagree with her. It is a shame that she was not recognized during her life as the great writer that she was.