The Marriage Theme in Kate Chopin's The Storm
Kate Chopin did not call herself a feminist or a suffragist, but her works are often considered among the earliest examples of proto-feminist American literature. Many of Chopin’s short stories, along with The Awakening novel, were filled with descriptions of women seeking and finding freedom from their husbands. The writer often focused on how marriage was expected from women but never brought them happiness or satisfaction. Instead, they suffered a complete loss of independence and self-possession and became nothing but silent servants to the male needs and desires.
The Storm stands out among Chopin’s short works as the most explicit depiction of female sexuality, which makes it clear why the story was not published until 1969, though it was written in 1898. In this graphic narration, the writer contraposes marriage and passion, creating a striking contrast between Calixta’s behavior with her husband Bobinot and her past love interest, Alcée. Unlike most writers of the time, Chopin does not demonize the woman for falling prey to passion in the hands of a lover. Instead, the writer lets the readers decide for themselves whether an affair between Alcée and Calixta is acceptable and should go on, or if their encounter during the storm should remain a one-time occurrence.
In her other works, such as The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin makes it clear that a woman’s life can be better without a husband to lord over her. However, in The Storm, the writer refrains from showing Bobinot as the story's villain. Instead, she hints that Calixta and Bobinot’s marriage is safe and comfortable, if not a bit stale and boring. After all, Bobinot brings Calixta a can of her favorite shrimp to make up for getting home late. And Calixta, in turn, busies herself with housework and promises to put on a feast with her gifted shrimp. Moreover, they spend the evening feasting and laughing so loud that they could be heard “as far away as Laballire's.”
The writer does not provide readers with much information about Alcée’s marriage. All we know is that his wife Clarisse is away with their babies. And after the storm, Alcée takes the time to craft a tender, loving letter to let her know he misses his family but would be willing to endure their separation if she would be happier at the bay. Clarisse, in turn, is happy to stay away from her husband because it lets her feel free again like she was in her maiden days. Moreover, she does not miss their intimate conjugal relations and is happy to forego sex with her husband for a while.
Kate Chopin makes it clear that both couples are treating marriage as a safety net, not a passionate union. Within their marriages, Calixta and Bobinot, Alcée and Clarisse treat each other with love, care, and tenderness. But their lives lack the same lust and passion that Calixta and Alcée spark in each other during their chance meeting alone. Kate Chopin’s description of their sexual encounter hints that neither of them has the same passion with their respective spouses. For instance, while Calixta is obviously not a virgin anymore, her body “was knowing for the first time its birthright”, and she penetrated the depths of Alcée’s “sensuous nature that had never yet been reached.” Chopin uses the color white extensively in the imagery of the scene to highlight Calixta’s relative inexperience and emphasize how special this tryst is for her.
The ending of The Storm is purposefully ambiguous. While for Calixta, Bobinot, and Bibi everything remains the same, Alcée is free from his wife, who chooses to stay away with the babies. Moreover, the writer includes a tidbit that lets the readers know how close the two families’ houses are to each other. The final line states that “everyone was happy” once the storm passed, but the future of the lovers and their spouses is unclear. Their sexual encounter is only made possible by the storm that holds up Bobinot and Bibi at the grocery store and conceals the lovemaking from other members of the tiny community. It is a chance meeting that could have been easily discovered by Calixta’s husband and son. The same risk remains for any future trysts if Calixta and Alcée choose to pursue their passion. The damage to their relationships with their respective spouses could prove irreparable. However, as Kate Chopin wisely leaves the story open-ended, the readers are free to speculate and form theories of their own about the future of the two families. As the short story is presented against the backdrop of a sudden and violent storm, readers should take it as an unrelated incident only made possible by the turn of events that could never be repeated.
Kate Chopin wrote The Storm in 1898 but never tried to publish it. The writer realized the explicit depiction of a sexual encounter between two adulterers would not be accepted by any editor, and the readers would be appalled by the apparent lack of punishment or retribution. Fittingly, the short story was first published during the sexual revolution when the world was fighting for free love and acceptance. And although Kate Chopin did not advocate Calixta and Alcée’s indiscretion, neither did she demonize passion outside the bounds of marriage. The writer counterposed passion and lust against marriage and care, making both equally valuable and desirable for men and women. However, the story led readers to conclude that passion and care could not coexist within a marriage, and to have both would require having a lover. At least, that was the case for Calixta and Alcée.
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