The Main Themes of "The Storm" by Kate Chopin
"The Storm" by Kate Chopin is a much-anthologized short story, considered to be a sequel to "At the 'Cadian Ball", featuring the same characters, Calixta and Alcée, along with their respective spouses. While the story seems straightforward and simplistic at first glance, it hides a host of themes that contrast each other to create a memorable read. Illicit affairs are juxtaposed against marital routine, and the implications of living in a small town are weighed against the pleasure of a passionate coupling.
The story's climax is a passionate sexual encounter between two ex-lovers, Calixta and Alcée, who come together during the storm, even though they are both married and have children. Considering the moral codes of the late 19th century, when the story is set, both characters could be viewed as sinners. However, the repercussions of infidelity could be much worse for Calixta as a woman. While some critics consider the sexual encounter a sign of moral degradation, others view it as taking everything from life, both good and bad. Regardless of the consequences of the liaison, it remains an artifact of forbidden love and all the more titillating for being forbidden.
The explicit depiction of the sexual act within the story sets "The Storm" apart from most short stories of the period. Not only does it focus on the female's perception, but it also highlights the pleasure Calixta gains from an encounter with a man who is not her husband. Though it isn't explicitly stated, the reader can draw conclusions that her marital love life was not as pleasurable.
One should also keep in mind that "The Storm", written in 1898, was only published in 1969, long after Kate Chopin's death. According to the researchers, she didn't even try sending the short story to the editors of the magazines that usually published her works. It seems the writer realized no editor would be willing to risk their career and the audience's wrath by publishing a story so explicit and controversial that it upended the common ideas of the lacking female sexuality.
The sexual scene between the two ex-lovers is juxtaposed against the rest of the narration that depicts the mundane scenes of the everyday lives of Bobinôt, Calixta and their son. While the father and son are out at the store, the mother is busy with mending and washing, and her routine is interrupted by the storm and the appearance of a past beau.
Though the reader might expect an explosive conclusion to the story, exposing the infidelity and subsequent marital troubles, "The Storm" takes another direction. The ending shows Calixta's family preparing for a canned shrimp feast, while Alcée sits down to write a letter to his wife to tell her to take her time away with children. The parting line wraps the short story up, saying, "the storm passed and every one was happy," though it can be interpreted in many ways. The open ending could imply the return to the everyday marital routines for everyone involved. Still, it could also suggest repeated sexual encounters for Calixta and Alcée regardless of their marriage and parental obligations.
Kate Chopin is a master of laying down subtle hints and layering the story with seemingly innocuous details. For example, at the end of the story, we learn that the town is so small, the laughter of Calixta and her family could be heard all the way to Alcée's house. In such tight quarters, it becomes obvious why the ex-lovers had never acted upon their attraction before the fateful storm. It serves as a witness to their passion and a barrier between the lovers and the outside world that would otherwise be privy to their affair. Moreover, Bobinôt and Bibi could have returned home too soon and caught the lovers, considering the small size of the town, but the storm held them up and made their way home much longer.
The open ending makes it unclear whether Calixta and Alcée would succumb to the mutual attraction again. Still, the town's small size could prevent them from meeting again, as keeping an affair secret would be nearly impossible.
Though comparatively minor, the theme of textiles is still present in the short story. On the one hand, clothing is used to highlight the everyday life of Calixta, the housewife who mended the clothes of her husband and son and went out before the storm to take care of the clothing line. Moreover, the part about Bibi's clothes getting dirty at the end of the story, after the sexual encounter, brings the narration back full circle, returning the character to her daily routine. Even Bobinôt's "ample side pocket" that stored a can of shrimp can be read as a metaphor for his role as the provider of the family. On the other hand, the author depicts the white bed linens to showcase Calixta's relative sexual inexperience despite being a married mother of one.
"The Storm" by Kate Chopin is a short story, but it is filled with tiny details and symbolism that make it a delightful puzzle for readers and literary analysts alike. The story strikes a balance between marital obligations and untapped female sexuality, the excitement of an affair and the confines of a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone. Critics continue to find new symbols in the story, but these are the core themes most experts agree on.
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