The Storm

Introduction

"The Storm" is a short story written by the American writer Kate Chopin in 1898. The story takes place during the 19th century somewhere in the South, where storms are frequent and dangerous. It did not appear in print in Chopin's lifetime, but it was published in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin in 1969.[1] This story is the sequel to Chopin's "At the 'Cadian Ball".[2]

Plot Summary

Bobinôt and his four-year-old son, Bibi, are at Friedheimer's store when a particularly violent storm begins. The two decide to remain at the store until the storm passes. Bobinôt then decides to buy a can of shrimp for his wife, Calixta, while he waits with his son for the storm to abate.

Meanwhile, back at their house, Bobinôt's wife, Calixta, is so occupied with her sewing that at first she does not notice the incoming storm. Finally she notices that it is growing darker outside, so she decides to shut the windows and retrieve Bobinôt's and Bibi's clothes, which are hanging outside. As she goes outside to retrieve the clothes, she notices Alcée, one of her former beaus who has ridden up to the house in the hopes of riding out the storm with her.

As the storm worsens, Calixta invites Alcée into her home; they wait for it to pass by. Alcée then helps Calixta get some clothes off the line. He is reluctant to come in and stays outside until it becomes apparent that the storm is not going to let up. Calixta gathers up the lengths of cotton sheet she had been sewing while Alcée takes a seat in the rocker. Calixta goes over to the window and observes the intensity of the storm, which disturbs her so much she nearly falls. Alcée then attempts to comfort her and in doing so is reminded of the passion they once felt for each other. Alcée reminds Calixta of their time at "Assumption," and she immediately remembers.[3] At first, Calixta is standoffish when Alcée tries to comfort her, but she can't resist him as she too becomes overwhelmed with passion. As the storm increases in intensity, so does the passion of the two former lovers. The sexual encounter between the pair ends at the same time as the storm. Alcée and Calixta go their separate ways once more, and both are left with feelings of rejuvenation and newfound happiness.

Bobinôt and Bibi return from the grocery store, and Calixta immediately embraces them. Bobinôt presents his gift of the can of shrimp to his wife, and she remarks that they will feast that night. Meanwhile, Alcée writes a loving letter to his wife, Clarisse, encouraging her to stay in Biloxi with their children as long as she needs. He notes that their well-being is more important than the anxiety from separation that he endures. Clarisse is "charmed" by the letter and is happy in Biloxi because she feels free, as if she were a maiden again. She explains how although she is "devoted" to her husband, she isn't in a rush to go back to her married life. The story ends with the short line, "So the storm passed and every one was happy".[4]

Characters

Calixta - The wife of Bobinôt and the mother of Bibi. In the story, she has an affair with Alcée, a former lover.

Alcée - The husband of Clarisse and was Calixta's former beau. He has an affair with Calixta in the story.

Bobinôt - The husband of Calixta and the father of Bibi.

Bibi - The four-year-old son of Calixta and Bobinôt.

Clarisse - Alcée's wife.

Analysis

"The Storm" is a story of sexual desire, a topic not publicly discussed in the 19th century, written in a third-person omniscient point of view. The relationship between Calixta and Alcée holds a degree of passion that is absent from both of their marriages. Calixta is scared of the storm, but Alcée's calmness relaxes her. When Alcée embraces her after the lightning hits a chinaberry tree, it reminds her of the love she once had for Alcée: "A bolt struck a tall chinaberry tree at the edge of the field. It filled all visible space with a blinding glare and the crash seemed to invade the very boards they stood upon."[4] (par.19). The storm causes destruction to the town, like the affair is going to do to Calixta's marriage. Calixta's sexual desire is directly tied to the storm.

Before using plastic and glass beads to make rosaries, chinaberries were used, therefore the chinaberry tree being struck by lightning may be representative of Calixta's sin in a Catholic area. Adultery is considered a sin in the catholic religion. One of the ten commandments in the bible is that no one should commit adultery and it is believed that by not abiding by the ten commandments, one will be sent to hell unless the individual repents the sin before death.[5] This piece was written at a time when faith was beginning to be questioned: "As she glanced up at him the fear in her liquid blue eyes had given place to a drowsy gleam that unconsciously betrayed a sensuous desire. He looked down into her eyes and there was nothing for him to do but gather her lips in a kiss. It reminded him of Assumption" (par. 20).[4]

Chopin describes Calixta as "a little fuller of figure than five years before when she married; but she had lost nothing of her vivacity" (par. 12).[4] The reader can infer that Calixta is basically unchanged since being married. Kate Chopin is trying to highlight the fact that being married doesn't really change a woman if there's no passion and fulfillment involved in it. In the article, "The Kaleidoscope of Truth: A New Look at Chopin's 'The Storm'", Allen Stein explains how some people believe that Chopin supports and defends Calixta's affair as an act of human nature and that women deserve to fulfill to their sexual desires.[6] Chopin may be trying to say that Calixta had something missing from her life all these years that Bobinôt couldn't provide for her and Alcée was able to give Calixta that missing piece when they had sex. Chopin believes that this act isn't sinful because every woman deserves to know about passion and have sexual fulfillment in their lives. This is evident when Chopin writes, "[Calixta's] firm, elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birthright" (par.25).[4] By saying it's Calixta's birthright to have sex, it further proves Chopin's approval of this "sinful" act.

The story also highlights images of purity. White imagery is introduced at the beginning of the second section when Calixta unbuttons her white blouse at the neck. When Chopin described the interior of the house for the first time, she describes things like the "white, monumental bed" (Par.13).[4] When the sexual tension is released, the sexualized purity reaches a climax; her neck, exposed by the act of unbuttoning, is white, and her breasts are "whiter" (Par. 25).[4] She is "as white as the couch she lay upon," and her passion is described as a "white flame" (Par. 25).[4] Added to this seemingly paradoxical use of white are the references to the Virgin Mary. While Assumption is a place name, it is also the feast that celebrates the bodily ascension of Mary into heaven,[7] a metaphorical description of what has just happened to Calixta and to further the connection, "[h]er firm, elastic flesh" is compared to a "creamy lily". In Christianity, the lily is attributed to be the flower of "the Virgin Mary."[8]

The storm also points out the direct issues with marriage at the time. Calixta appears lonely and depressed in the beginning of the story, but by the time Bobinot comes home from waiting out the storm, she receives a can of shrimps upon arrival and by this small gesture a marriage could be rekindled.

Chopin highlights the presence of what marriage was like during this era. In this short story, marriage is portrayed very differently than how it is presented in today's day and age. Chopin emphasizes the ideals of marriage and how even though the relationship between Calixta and Alcée was sinful and disloyal, it was healthier in the long run for both the characters' marriages. Calixta and Alcée both have better attitudes and treat their spouses differently after this act of adultery. Calixta's "first free breath since her marriage seemed to restore the pleasant liberty of her maiden days. Devoted as she was to her husband, their intimate conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while” (par. 38).[4] Calixta’s newfound passion determines the importance of passion in 1890’s where many women felt they were bound. The storm itself was describing their progressing passion with the encounter of lightning bolt and thunder. The author represents a desire for attention from Calixta to Alcée. The narrator says “Calixta put her hands to her eyes, and with a cry, staggered backward. Alcée’s arm encircled her, and for an instant he drew her close and spasmodically to him” (par. 20).[4] The increase in power of the storm represents the increase in passion between the two lovers. This shows how much power this passion has, just like a strong storm.

Symbolism

"The Storm" is a short story that takes place during the 19th century. Chopin's protagonist Calixta is portrayed as the typical housewife, as she was sewing and tending to Bobinot and Bibi's clothes.1 Throughout the story there are many symbolic references. Many claim that the antagonist of the story is the storm. It is said that the storm symbolizes the passion and affair that happens between Calixta and Alcée. As soon as Calixta goes outside to get Bibi and Bobinot's clothes off the line and the storm approaches, so does Alcée seeking shelter from the storm. In an article of "The Storm," it says: "as the storm is just about to arrive, so too does Alcée to Calixta’s home and as the storm begins to have an effect on the surroundings of the house, likewise Calixta and Alcée become closer (physically) eventually sleeping with each other."[9] The end of the storm signified the end of the affair between Calixta and Alcee. At the end of the storm, the narrators says: "the storm passsed and everyone was happy". They both experienced that intense passion that their relationships were missing.

The small town of Assumption is where Alcee and Calixta shared their first kiss. They had strong feelings back then, however, never pursed anything after until the day of the storm. To Alcee and Calixta, the place has symbolism to them because that's where they first met. Assumption itself also has biblical meaning to it as well. In the biblical sense, The Assumption is the day the Virgin Mary died and ascended into heaven. In "The Storm", Assumption symbolizes virginity and purity for Alcee and Calixta. During Assumption, they were committing innocent acts with one another and never had sex. However, it is mentioned in the story later to insinuate the act that they are about to commit. Having an affair in not pure, this is to show the contrast of the characters from when they first met to their present.[10]

White is also used throughout the story to describe Calixta's skin and her bed. The reference to her skin is used to show the her innocence. Also the bed expresses Calixta's innocence as the place where she expresses her passion is shown to be white.[11] In the story, White has been used in multiple instances to represent innocence and purity.

Critical Response

Many critics have argued that "The Storm" narrows in on the topics of gender, and some view it as a sin committed between two "ex" lovers. As Maria Herbert-Leiter suggested, “through this story, Chopin seems to be arguing for human passion and desire, but not at the cost of marriage. After all, the two couples end where they began—happily married. Furthermore, Calixta’s concerns for Bobinôt’s physical dryness and Clarisse’s continued devotion to her husband prove the solidity of the marriages that are tested in this story.” [12]

In his book Women and Autonomy, critic Allen Stein stated that “From first chapter to last, ‘The Storm,’ is pervaded by ambiguity. The plot is clear enough, but the story is missing important detail relating to the setting. That within the compass of the story’s five pages Chopin offers, to varying degrees, the points of view of five different characters suggests no implicit consensus of vision but only a sense of fragmentation, a sense perhaps that with any significant situation points of view are as numerous as those involved and, further, that with many pieces of significant fiction readings are as numerous as readers.”[13]

Other Versions

In 2009 there was a short film adaptation of the story directed by John Berardo and produced by Major Diamond Productions.[14]

References
  1. ^ "Kate Chopin: "The Storm"". www.katechopin.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  2. ^ "The Storm". Good Reads
  3. ^ "The Storm Summary". E Notes
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chopin, Kate. The Storm. Pearson. pp. 120–123. ISBN 9780134586380. 
  5. ^ "The Ten Commandments oGod". biblescripture.net. Retrieved April 30, 2017. 
  6. ^ Stein, Allen (Fall 2003). "The Kaleidoscope of Truth: A New Look at Chopin's "The Storm"". American Literary Realism. 36 (1): 51–64. 
  7. ^ "Munificentissimus Deus (November 1, 1950) | PIUS XII". w2.vatican.va. Retrieved 2017-04-24. 
  8. ^ Scoble, Gretchen; Field, Ann (1998). The Meaning of Flowers: Myth, Language & Lore (Illustrated ed.). Chronicle Books. p. 26. ISBN 9780811819312. LCCN 97030802. 
  9. ^ McManus, Dermot (2015-04-11). "The Storm by Kate Chopin". The Sitting Bee. Retrieved 2017-05-01. 
  10. ^ https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2017/08/15/history-assumption-holy-day-obligation/
  11. ^ "Whiteness in The Storm". Shmop. Shmoop University Inc. Retrieved 3 December 2017. 
  12. ^ "Kate Chopin: "The Storm"". www.katechopin.org. Retrieved 2017-05-08. 
  13. ^ Stein, Allen F. (2005-01-01). Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin's Short Fiction. Peter Lang. p. 56. ISBN 9780820474427. 
  14. ^ Berardo, John, The Storm, Orion Acaba, Brittany Batson, James Clow, retrieved 2017-11-09 
  • Robert L. Gale. Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Kate Chopin. McFarland, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7864-4005-4

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