Short Story Saturday: "The Storm" by Kate Chopin
I chose this story because it is eerily fitting with the novel I’m currently reading which will be my next book review/analysis.
Written in 1898 but published in 1969, The Storm by Kate Chopin is a popularly anthologized story widely considered a seminal work of literary realism.
A great storm hits a southern town where Calixta is home alone sewing while her husband Bobinôt and young son Bibi are out at a grocery store. The storm is vicious, and Bobinôt and Bibi decide to stay at the store to wait it out. Back at their home, sensing the storm, Calixta retrieves hanging clothes from outside and sees Alcée Laballière approaching.
Alcée is an old crush of Calixta’s; they had met at Assumption, a ball they had attended when they were younger (depicted in Chopin’s At the ‘Cadian Ball, which The Storm is technically a sequel to). Alcée is hesitant to take refuge in Calixta’s house, and at first he opts to stay out on the porch. But soon the storm picks up and Calixta insists that he come inside. They begin to catch up, but the storm grows so intense that Calixta is scared to death. Alcée begins to comfort her, holding her, and speaking softly about old times, Assumption where they had kissed, and suddenly Calixta grows overwhelmed with passion. Chopin beautifully writes, “Her firm, elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birthright, was like a creamy lily that the sun invites to contribute its breath and perfume to the undying life of the world.” What a line! They begin to make love, their movements and excitement growing with the crescendo of the storm.
The storm passes, and as Calixta watches Alcée riding off on his horse away from the house, he turns to her and smiles prompting a laugh in Calixta. Bobinôt and Bibi are headed home, expressing concern with the fact that their boots are covered in mud and that Calixta would scorn them for it. But when they get home, to their surprise Calixta is in high spirits, and they have dinner where “they laughed much and so loud.” Then we see that Alcée is composing a letter to his wife Clarisse who is on vacation in Mississippi with their children; he says that he misses them but not to hurry back if they were having a great time. Clarisse, her vacation having restored an urge of liberty from her marriage with Alcée, is refreshed upon reading the letter.
The story ends with the famous line, “So the storm passed and every one was happy.”
Like many of Chopin’s stories, The Storm is considered by many to be a great work of feminist literature that strove to combat the misogynistic status quo of the 19th century. The story addresses head-on a woman’s sexual desires and urges coming to fruition, a woman’s (initial) discontent in marriage, and subsequently a critique on the cult of domesticity.
Chopin is daring, and in this story, she (accordingly to the views of that time) violates an unwritten law regarding how women were supposed to be, and what a marriage was supposed to be. Calixta’s sexual reawakening in the arms of Alcée directly combats the notion that women were supposed to be pure and not have such indecent thoughts (see the cult of domesticity). A woman having sexual desire was incredibly taboo at the time, and certainly not a subject acceptable to write about. Women were to be subservient to their husbands, a notion that Chopin often critiqued in her stories (go read the fantastic The Story of an Hour). And Chopin’s combatting that notion, essentially saying fuck you to the status quo, in a way, posed a threat to society. Furthermore, the end of The Storm posed an even larger threat: that infidelity can lead to happiness. The very last line, “and every one was happy,” is incredibly famous, and is synonymous with “and they lived happily ever after,” an allusion that I believe Chopin wrote intentionally. But the fact that a wavering marriage could be strengthened through an act of adultery, especially adultery on the woman’s part, was an abominable concept in the late 19th century. The power that this one story held was much too threatening to men and the views surrounding the sanctity of marriage, and it’s because of that that the story never the saw the light of day within Chopin’s lifetime.
It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that the story was published for the first time, and I don’t believe that is a coincidence nor accident. The sixties were a decade of a resurgence of feminist ideals, specifically the height of second-wave feminism, as well as cultural revolution surrounding the views of sex and free love. Within that span of seventy years, American values had changed considerably, and at a time rife with changing ideals and perspectives on topics once considered too taboo to write about, it is no wonder that a story like The Storm was met with much acclaim and praise.
It is a shame though that it took so long for the story to be published because had it been published back in the 1890’s, I think it would have shaken the game up a bit. Within the story is a truth that readers, especially women readers, could relate too. And moreover, Chopin was saying that its okay to talk about sex and love, there’s not anything wrong about thinking about sex or having fantasies. And on top of that, Chopin was making a commentary on the absurdity and meaninglessness of the societal roles and standards imposed on husbands and wives, the over-arching conception of what a marriage should be, on how love and sex are viewed by the public, and how the status quo is ridiculous. Not only was Chopin an absolute artist with her prose, but she was an iconoclastic force to be reckoned with, a literary wave of influence, the effects of which readers still feel today.