Commentary by Karen Bernardo
Chopin’s short story “The Storm” was completed a year after her novel The Awakening, but it covers much the same ground. Given the outcry over the publication of The Awakening, however, “The Storm” would remain unpublished until long after Chopin’s death.
Chopin’s female protagonists in both The Awakening and “The Storm” begin by feeling a vague discontent, which they are clueless to explain. In both cases, these protagonists meet up with an attractive man who stirs their blood. Whereas this causes a marital breakup in The Awakening, in “The Storm” Chopin’s protagonist, Calixta, integrates a one-night stand into her marriage, and emerges from it enlivened, invigorated, and actually a better woman than she had been before. For this reason, it is actually a healthier story than The Awakening—but Chopin’s contemporaries would not have found it so. The fact that Calixta is able to resume her married life without guilt—and without punishment—after her one-shot affair to be would seem as shocking as Chopin’s descriptions of Calixta’s sexual encounter. Even today, it seems a bit unrealistic, but it clearly reflects Chopin’s sexually-liberated views.
The metaphor of the storm is clearly intended to mirror Calixta’s vague but increasingly restless sexual passion longing to burst forth at the first opportunity. We find her at first unaware that the storm is coming, but conscious of the oppressive heat—a discomfort that causes her to loosen her collar, partially baring the top of her breasts. As the storm intensifies, a gentleman named Alcee appears, asking for shelter on her porch. She agrees, and together they bring in the clothes hanging on the line. The ferocity of the storm drives them inside the house, and Alcee helps Calixta stuff a piece of “bagging” under the door to keep out the rain. Clearly here they are sandbagging one storm outside—the storm of society, which would be shocked to discover their secret—but they are also shutting the storm of Calixta’s forbidden passion up inside the house with them.
She falls into his arms by accident, but then their mutual urges keep her there, and they indulge their passion for one another: “When he touched her breasts they gave themselves up in quivering ecstasy, inviting his lips. Her mouth was a fountain of delight. And when he possessed her, they seemed to swoon together at the very borderland of life’s mystery.”
After Alcee has left, Calixta’s husband returns, and she is delighted to see him; together with their little son, they have dinner and “laugh so much and so loud that anyone might have heard them as far away as Laballiere’s”—Alcee’s family home. Thus we are reminded of the transforming event in Calixta’s life, but we are told in no uncertain terms that Alcee now remains outside it, just as he had been before the storm. This is the meaning of the rather enigmatic last line of the story: “So the storm passed and everyone was happy.” Calixta has been permanently changed by her discovery of her sexual nature, but she no longer needs her teacher in order to practice it on her own.
All four Chopin stories reviewed on Storybites can be found in the collection The Awakening: And Other Stories.
It is available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon here.
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