The Storm by Kate Chopin - Analysis

The Awakening and Selected Short Stories By Kate Chopin
The Awakening and Selected Short Stories By Kate Chopin

Feminism in The Storm by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin is considered to be one of the first feminists. She’s one of the first women writers who pioneered writing about women’s emancipation. She has written about the inner as much as the physical afflictions that women have suffered in her contemporary society. She has addressed issues related to women’s repression and suppression both sexually and spiritually. In The Storm, I will check on these issues.
Kate Chopin was in a time where women had to ‘behave properly’. She was in a society that believed and lived on standards of virtue and purity of women. Women didn’t have as much freedom as men to express and practise their sexual desires. Kate Chopin’s The Storm is exceptionally full of sexuality—unlike her other short literary work. Sexuality was not a topic that was dealt with during the time she wrote the short story (1898). This explains why The Storm was not published during Chopin’s lifetime.
The Storm is a work of fiction where Chopin goes beyond the frequent themes of her works. It is a storm that erupts from the repression that female characters suffered in her previous works. There is a physical storm outside the house of Calixta as well as inside the house. Chopin uses the concept of a storm symbolically to manifest the inner emotions of Calixta –the protagonist. We notice how both the natural storm outside the house develops simultaneously with the emotional and sexual passion in the encounter between Calixta and Alcée. Calixta grows warmer inside the house without being aware of the internal passion; suddenly she hears the storm outside and goes to close the window. Calixta “she felt very warm and often stopped to mop her face … She unfastened her white sacque at the throat. … and suddenly … she got up hurriedly and went about closing windows and doors”. The whole encounter between Calixta and Alcée was sudden and natural. This pressure in the air and in Calixta’s heart has grown into a physical thunder both sexually between Calixta and Alcée, and as a storm in its real existence.
In the beginning everything was reluctant, even Alcée “expressed an intention to remain outside”. But finally he was forced by some natural strength to get in, “the water beat in upon the boards in driving sheets, and he went inside, closing the door after him.” Indeed there is “a force and clatter that threatened to break an entrance and deluge them there.” Not only Alcée who has resisted his passion towards Calixta, but also Calixta: “"Bonté!" she cried, releasing herself from his encircling arm and retreating from the window”.
With the storm’s momentum, Calixta and Alcée’s passion grows and their resistance starts weakening. Ultimately, there was a lightning bolt that climaxed the situation. “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.” This is the natural force again that justified Alcée’s first kiss to Calixta. As if they both waited for this natural implicit reason to start their sexual affair. We read “Now -- well, now -- her lips seemed in a manner free to be tasted, as well as her round, white throat and her whiter breasts”, they have been waiting for this very moment to seize each other.
The sexual affair is not described blatantly in the story, mostly, perhaps, because of the social standards of virtue that encircled such relationships in Kate Chopin’s time. Therefore, she used an encoded language that is paralleled with a natural storm. One could safely, say that the natural storm is the camouflage that Chopin uses to cover the sexual encounter between Calixta and Alcée. This is maybe to avoid labels such as ‘adultery’, ‘sin’, ‘unfaithfulness’ etc. that this sexual affair entails. However, Chopin succeeds to manifest the situation in a bright and artful way.
The fact that Calixta and Alcée are both married makes their sexual encounter put the institution of marriage into question. Chopin challenges and destabilizes the tradition of marriage. Here we have two people who are married having a sexual affair without feeling guilty or embarrassed. Calixta is satisfied with their safe return and she cares for them as if nothing has happened. We read “Calixta felt him to see if he were dry, and seemed to express nothing but satisfaction at their safe return.” This is ironical as much as the fact that Alcée writes “a loving letter” to his wife telling her about his love to her and for the babies. Although he misses them, he tells them to stay a month longer. We see that marriage in Chopin’s story is not a traditional marriage based on faithfulness and truthfulness. It is a relationship full of hypocrisy and insincerity. It is a relationship that looks fine from outside but unwell from inside.
Chopin goes beyond questioning marriage to undermining it; in the beginning of the story ones reads as if there is a normal relationship between a wife and a husband but finally one finds out that both Calixta and Clarisse sound happier when ‘freed’ from their marriage duties. We read for example: “her firm, elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birthright”, as if Chopin alludes to the sexual dissatisfaction that women may experience in the institution of marriage. Another example is when Clarisse learnt that she could stay a month longer at Biloxi. We read that Clarisse takes “the first free breath since her marriage”. This has restored “the pleasant liberty of her maiden days”. Even if Clarisse is devoted to her husband she doesn’t enjoy her intimate marital life with him: “Devoted as she was to her husband, their conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while.”
Happiness and freedom of both Calixta and Clarisse lies in their escape from marriage. Their marital relationships do not make them happy as much as they oppress them. They both breathe freely and joyfully away from their husbands. Chopin expresses her views about marriage as it strips the woman from enjoying her sexual desires as men does. It is also her opportunity to call for a rethinking of the gender roles that patriarchal norms of social life believe in. In addition, she suggests abandoning or at least staying away for a while from marital life to enjoy freedom and discard oppression that this might cause to women.
Kate Chopin does not only challenge the institution of marriage, but she also questions religion. By setting her short story in Louisiana, a state that’s been full of Catholics who believed that adultery is an immense sin that leads its doer to hell. Chopin has had the courage to put such belief into question. Her characters in the story practise this abhorred act in their religion, even though they are married; they never felt uncomfortable or ashamed of it.
Calixta, instead of feeling guilty of her act, she laughed loud during the act. She delightfully enjoys the act and forgets about the storm and everything. She “did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms.” We see that Calixta is not an innocent submissive maiden who’s acted upon; instead she is actively acting and laughing in celebration of her ‘first birthright’. We look at this quote, “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”; Chopin’s use of the word ‘penetrate’ is symbolic in the sense that she associates a male action to Calixta.
Chopin stresses this inversion of gender roles. It is rather the female who is enjoying and performing. Calixta is showing triumph rather than submission. Equally, both Calixta and Alcée participate in the experience and enjoy it. They are both equal in this sense.
Chopin ends her story with a happy comment: she says “the storm passed and everyone was happy.” She suggests that even with the subversion of the gender roles and even with ideas of undermining marriage, and giving potential to women life will be stable and happy. The storm here may represent a rebirth and a renewal of life. As the storm ends, everything becomes better. It may also stand for the revolution that women have to enact in order to get equal rights with men.
Abderrazak Baddou

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