'The Storm' is a compelling short story written by Kate Chopin in 1898. It serves as a prequel to another story she had penned six years earlier, titled 'At the 'Cadian Ball.' However, due to its explicit exploration of sexuality, 'The Storm' was not published during Chopin's lifetime and only saw the light of day in 1969.
Plot Summary: Awaiting the Storm
The story revolves around Bobinôt, who is married to Calixta, and their young son Bibi. Seeking refuge from the storm, Bobinôt and Bibi take shelter in a local store while waiting for its passing. Bibi wonders if his mother will be frightened during the storm, but his father reassures him. Bobinôt, aware of Calixta's fondness for shrimp, purchases a can for her.
Meanwhile, Calixta remains absorbed in sewing on her sewing-machine at home, oblivious to the approaching storm. She shows no concern for the safety of her husband and son. Only when she finally notices the storm does she rush to close doors and windows. At that moment, Alcée, a man with whom she had a brief flirtation before marrying Bobinôt five years ago, appears and requests shelter in the house's gallery until the storm subsides. Notably, Alcée is now married to Clarisse.
As they wait indoors, confined in the stifling heat of the living room, they witness the rain and lightning outside. Calixta, startled, cries out and stumbles, prompting Alcée to catch and hold her. Worried about her son's whereabouts, Calixta finds solace in Alcée's presence. Their close contact rekindles Alcée's desire for Calixta, and he realizes she reciprocates those feelings.
In a moment of vulnerability, they confess their passion for each other and recall their romantic encounter six years earlier in the town of Assumption. They share a series of kisses, giving in to their desires. Once the storm subsides, Alcée departs, leaving Calixta watching him ride away with a sense of laughter.
A Reunion of Love and Laughter
Bobinôt and Bibi return home, and Bobinôt insists that his son clean the mud off his clothes before entering the house. Calixta greets them joyfully, relieved that Bibi is unharmed. Bobinôt presents his wife with the shrimp he bought for her, and she responds with a loving kiss. Laughter fills the air as all three of them revel in their reunion.
Liberation and Intimacy
The story shifts its focus to Alcée, who is engrossed in writing a letter to his wife, Clarisse. Clarisse, vacationing at Biloxi with their children for the sake of her well-being, receives the letter. It is revealed that she has found renewed happiness and a sense of freedom during her break from her husband. Although devoted to him, she is relieved to have temporarily escaped the demands of their intimate conjugal life. The story implies that Alcée's sexual needs may exceed her comfort level.
The final sentence of the story declares, 'So the storm passed and everyone was happy.' This conclusion suggests a sense of fulfillment and contentment, highlighting the transformative power of desire and the liberation found within human connections.
The Analysis: An Exploration of Passion, Morality, and Change
'The Storm' concludes with the seemingly innocuous statement, 'So the storm passed and everyone was happy.' Kate Chopin's explicit and daring portrayal of extramarital passion, especially considering the time it was written, extends beyond the literal storm and delves into the tempestuous desires brewing within Alcée and Calixta.
Chopin's final sentence suggests that the passionate encounter between Alcée and Calixta has concluded, and all parties involved can resume their contented family lives. Alcée returns to being a caring husband, Calixta a loyal wife and doting mother. The story implies that the brief moment of passion may have even benefitted Alcée's wife, Clarisse. It is hinted that Clarisse may have grown overwhelmed or unwell due to her husband's persistent sexual demands. By releasing some of this pressure through his encounter with Calixta, Alcée's passions have cooled, and he suggests extending Clarisse's vacation, giving her space and relief.
A Singular Occasion
The conclusion of 'The Storm' does not suggest a continuation or repetition of the erotic encounter between Alcée and Calixta. Chopin employs the stormy weather as a mirror to reflect the characters' internal desires, suggesting that such a tryst is a rare occurrence. Like the storm itself, their passions will calm in due course.
Societal Condemnation and Moral Ambiguity
The behavior depicted in 'The Storm' would have faced severe condemnation from the majority of Americans in 1898. Chopin was aware of this, leading her to refrain from publishing the story during her lifetime. However, she presents Calixta as a good wife and mother despite her adultery. The final scene portrays a loving and joyful family dynamic, emphasizing that no harm has been done.
Furthermore, Calixta's mood improves following her encounter with Alcée. Before his arrival, she is engrossed in her domestic responsibilities, diligently sewing clothes. Alcée's presence and the storm offer her a temporary respite from these obligations, which she otherwise takes seriously.
Symbols of Purity and Judgment
Chopin employs the symbol of whiteness to counter any moral judgment or condemnation of Calixta's actions. References to white elements associated with Calixta, such as her sacque, the monumental bed, and her neck and breasts, depict her as pure and innocent. This aligns with Thomas Hardy's portrayal of Tess, the protagonist of his scandalous 1895 novel 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles,' as a 'pure woman' often associated with whiteness.
'The Storm' challenges readers not to judge Calixta's morality or responsibility for her actions. However, it is crucial to recognize that the readership capable of engaging with the story's themes only emerged in 1969 when 'The Storm' was finally published. By that time, America was already experiencing the winds of change due to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.