Uncertainty in “The Storm”

By Fallon Ward

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Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836. Oil on canvas, 51 ½ x 76 in. Referred to as The Oxbow, Cole paints a panoramic scene of the Connecticut River Valley as a thunderstorm approaches, or leaving, the land. On the left side, the painting is filled with gray, almost black, clouds and shattered clusters of trees and nature but as the clouds roll over into the right side of the composition, the right side of the painting shows cleared fields where a civilization resides with the open skies above. Cole’s work shows the grandeur of nature while showing it’s horrors. 

Published in 1969 in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, Chopin originally wrote “The Storm” in 1898. “The Storm” is broken into short chapters that follows the events that take place in one day during a storm in a Louisiana town. At the center of the storm is fear, romance, adultery, and betrayals. But while the storm can be as damaging as the lies, the passionate descriptions of such destructive nature makes the readers uncertain of how to read and understand her story.

In the first chapter, Bobinôt with his son, Bibi, are trapped inside a local store as a storm rages on outside. Chopin emphasis the power as well as the fear of nature by describing the storm within the first lines of the chapter.

“The leaves were so still that even Bibi thought it was going to rain. Bobinôt, who was accustomed to converse on terms of perfect equality with his little son, called the child’s attention to certain sombre clouds that were rolling with sinister intention from the west, accompanied by a sullen, threatening roar.” (Chopin 1)

While Bibi and his father wait in the store with the bags of shrimp purchased for his mother Calixta, Bibi mentions that he thinks his mother will be afraid since she is home alone in the storm. Allen Stein states by writing Bibi and Bobinôt running errands for Calixta and expressing concern for her safety, it’s an ideal family situation that makes the events in the story more shocking and confusing for a reader to comprehend. “[Chopin] might just as likely be suggesting the sheer sweetness of the man and implying in advance that any woman who would betray such a man is doing something reprehensible” (Stein 54). The moral ambiguity and the “kaleidoscopic” use of the storm, Stein says, in the story begins after this moment between father and son as Chopin then turns the story’s attention to Calixta.

In the second chapter, while Bobinôt and Bibi are stuck in the shop, Chopin turns to Calixta as she works diligently at home. The power of the fearsome storm seems to escape Calixta until a guest arrives at her home seeking refugee from the storm. The visitor is a former beau of hers, Alcée Laballière, who is also married. While the storm rages outside, Calixta and Alcée have intercourse in the house, both overwhelmed by each other in the chaotic, powerful rush of the storm, a description of sensuality that Emily Toth notes as “hardly typical of the genteel 1890’s” (Toth 658).

“They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms. She was a revelation in that dim, mysterious chamber; as white as the couch she lay upon. 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” (Chopin 2).

While Bibi and Bobinôt are trapped in the storm, Calixta laughs at it while she engages in an affair. As Stein suggests, Chopin is writing about the dichotomies of storms. Storms can be frightening but also magnificent. “Is it (and is nature generally), merely indifferent to human well-being, a blind force, brute, and dangerous, or is it something akin to a lifeforce, potentially dangerous, of course, but beautiful and enriching, a power with which to align oneself, body and spirit, despite the carping of stifling convention?” (Stein 55). This dichotomy Chopin addresses is further underlined at the beginning of the third chapter after Calixta and Alcée have finished their sinful activities, the storm subsides and reveals a scenic landscape.

“The rain was over; and the sun was turning the glistening green world into a palace of gems. Calixta, on the gallery, watched Alcée ride away. He turned and smiled at her with a beaming face; and she lifted her pretty chin in the air and laughed aloud” (Chopin 3).

After committing adultery, Calixta is not struck down by lightening or caught by her husband and son but rather greeted with a ‘palace of gems’ as Alcée rides away on his horse. Chopin doesn’t punish the sinners and doesn’t allow for the caring husband to know of his wife’s treachery. The storm covers the town in a dark cloud but by the end of the story, it reveals sublime nature as Calixta and Alcée collide in a cataclysm. Violent storms like the one Chopin describes often leave a wake of destruction in its path much like the chaos that ensues when extramarital affairs occur but the conventional and traditional conceptions of affairs and sexuality as well as storms don’t apply in “The Storm” like Toth said before. Furthermore, the last line of the story leaves the consequences of Calixta unknown and the reader’s judgement of affairs unclear.

“So the storm passed and everyone was happy” (Chopin 5)

The moral ambiguity of Chopin’s story and use of natural disasters like storms that was unlike what her contemporaries were doing make “The Storm” a unique tale of contradictions and dichotomies but like mentioned before, the story was not known until a 1969 publication. Dana Gioia, when introducing “The Storm”, ponders that because of some of Chopin’s earlier work like her famous The Awakening and “The Story of an Hour” that explored the complex female characters similar to Calixta in 19th century setting, works like “The Storm” may have been censored. “She began to bring into American fiction some […] hard-eyed observations and passion for telling unpleasant truths. Determined, in defiance of her times, frankly to show sexual feelings of her characters, Chopin suffered from neglect and censorship. […] Many of her stories had to wait seven decades for a sympathetic audience” (Gioia 115). The unusual use of the storm as a tool of devastation and creation as well as the exploration of forbidden sexuality make “The Storm” a unique story in that it defies the standard notion of how nature and women were written around in the 1890’s but unfortunately was not appreciated upon its conception.

Bibliography

Chopin, Kate. “”The Storm”.” 1898. American Literature. Website.

Gioia, Dana. Literature: Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.

Stein, Allen. “The Kaleidoscope of Truth: A New Look at Chopin’s “The Storm”.” American Literary Realism (2003): 51-64. Print.

Toth, Emily. “The Independent Woman and “Free” Love.” The Massachusetts Review (1975): 647-664.

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