Symbolism in The Storm by Kate Chopin
Written in 1898, The Storm by Kate Chopin was only published in 1969, as the short story was overly explicit for the magazine readers of the late 19th century. Within five short parts, the writer juxtaposes the themes of marriage and lust, creating a perfect chance for Calixta and Alcée to meet again and ignite the flames of their previous romance. While a significant part of the narration focuses on the passion between the two, the inclusion of Calixta’s husband and son, Bobinot and Bibi, and Alcée’s wife, Clarisse, make for an intriguing and somewhat ironic introduction and conclusion to the story. The same contrast between marriage and lust is best illustrated through the symbols Kate Chopin uses in The Storm.
The storm that serves as a background for their enthusiastic lovemaking symbolizes passion igniting between Calixta and Alcée. The storm is also an enabler for them to have a short tryst, as Calixta’s husband and son get stuck in the grocery store waiting for the weather to turn for the better. Moreover, the wind and rain serve as a buffer between the lovers and the outside world, as within a small community, their passion could have been witnessed by neighbors, but no one would venture outside in the horrible weather.
However, the storm’s unpredictability and quick passing mirror life and chance. Not only does the weather enable Calixta and Alcée to have an affair, but its conclusion also makes them part ways quickly, without yielding to sleep and drowsiness. The storm’s end signifies the necessary end to the tryst. Although the ending is ambiguous, Alcée’s letter to his wife and the potential for future storms hint at possible future covert meetings between the two lovers.
Throughout the second section of The Storm, Kate Chopin continuously contrasts Calixta’s passion with her seeming innocence. As the color white is traditionally associated with virginity and purity, it is surprising to see it repeatedly used in the explicit sex scene. The writer uses color to describe Calixta and set up the scene on the white couch. Moreover, Kate Chopin relates the woman’s experiences as her body “knowing for the first time its birthright” while her passion finds a response in the depths of Alcée’s nature “that had never yet been reached.” Although they are both married with children, the writer describes the lovers’ experience as new, fresh, and exciting for them both, setting it apart from their less passionate sexual encounters with their spouses.
Married life is the opposite of the stormy passion between the two adulterers, and the symbols introduced in the story seem to highlight the difference. For example, while Alcée was burning up with white flames in Calixta’s hands, his letter to Clarisse was loving and tender. And his wife, while devoted to Alcée, was more than happy to enjoy her newfound freedom away from her husband without engaging in intimate conjugal life with him.
The symbols of domestic bliss are more plentiful for Calixta and Bobinot. For instance, at the very beginning of the story, Bobinot purchases a can of shrimp to bring to his wife because she is fond of them. And when presented with the can, Calixta gets excited and thanks her husband and promises they will have a feast that night. In fact, Calixta’s daily routine is centered around her household chores, as she is shown cooking, making coffee, setting the table, and sowing sheets. And Bobinot and Bibi are well aware of her ire if they were to bring mud into the house that she would have to clean, so they pause to make themselves presentable before entering the house. All these small, trivial details add up like puzzle pieces to form a picture of Bobinot and Calixta’s married life that is familiar and routine without much passion or lust, though still full of tenderness and care.
The story’s structure may not be a symbol, but it reflects life’s realities. Throughout the five sections, the readers encounter the points of view of all the major characters of the story, even Clarisse. This fragmentation seems as intentional as the unexpected nature of the storm. The writer seems to believe that there are always multiple perspectives in any situation or circumstance. Moreover, a single instance of indiscretion does not make a person inherently evil or wrong. Instead, Kate Chopin hints that lust, passion, trysts are all parts of human nature that do not do much harm if they are contained within a single event.
With that in mind, the story’s final line claiming that “everyone was happy” after the storm is comforting and ominous at once. On the one hand, Chopin promises that marital bliss would continue for Calixta, Alcée, and their spouses. But, on the other hand, the lovers could easily be caught if they repeat the tryst in the future without the cover of the storm, potentially ruining their respective marriages.
The Storm by Kate Chopin is a seemingly straightforward story about two lovers making the most of an opportunity granted by a chance meeting. Yet the narration is filled with symbols as large as the storm itself and as small as a can of shrimp. Ultimately, every detail of the story contrasts marriage and lust without making a solid case for either. The readers are left to make their own conclusions about the future of both families.
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