More Than Just a Story sample essay
Joanna Bartee’s critical essay of Kate Chopin’s short story, The Storm, maintains that the entire story is an allegorical look at feminism and sexual reservations in the Nineteenth Century. She maintains that the storm is a metaphor for the pent up sexual energy that culminates in an extramarital affair while Calixta’s husband and son ride out the actual storm at a small grocer’s store nearby. Bartee points out that Chopin was in touch with her own feelings regarding sexuality and through this story she was able to express her views though she chose not to make them known through publication in her lifetime.
Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; the opposite is also true. Bartee makes an effective argument that her assessment is correct by backing up her opinions with pertinent blocks of dialogue from the story and by simply pointing out the obvious. To begin Bartee says that the title of Chopin’s short story has a dual meaning, and though the tale unfolds during a raging storm, the storm of the title is representative of repressed human female sexuality.
While Alcee comes to the home of Calixta seeking refuge from the storm it is more a rhetorical device to enable the plot to unfold as it does. The physical storm is irrelevant to the actual theme, which is sexuality and human desire. Bartee says that initially the story begins with just the facts that can be gleaned from a read, assuming the reader is capable of taking a bit of latitude. She tells us that the two main characters, Calixta and Alcee, were once lovers and have now met in the present time of the short story, during a powerful storm.
She is reading more into this assessment than is actually said in the story when she declares, “…Calixta and Alcee, had a flirtation several years before the story takes place, but each made a more suitable marriage to someone else and they have not seen each other since,” (Bartee). It is known from the story that they had a flirtation but as for each making a more advantageous marriage, that seems to be speculation. Joanne Bartee’s essay addresses the title, saying that ‘The Storm” is metaphor for the pent up passions of a Victorian period.
It seems logical that this is the case, for the author flaunts it at every opportunity. She says, “They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms,” (Chopin II-20), to describe the passion of the two. Then she says, “The rain was over; and the sun was turning the glistening green world into a palace of gems. Calixta, on the gallery, watched Alcee ride away,” (Chopin III-1) to describe the parting of the two, saying that the storm of passion had ebbed.
Bartee quotes critic Robert Wilson as well, saying that Wilson believes, “Chopin’s title refers to nature, which is symbolically feminine; the storm can therefore be seen as symbolic of feminine sexuality and passion. ” Bartee points out that Claxita is the essence of domesticity as the story opens, totally unaware of an impending storm. This storm will not only be the one of nature but rather the storm of her pent up desires, released when her former paramour arrives unexpectedly. She is sewing, while her husband’s Sunday clothes are airing out on the porch.
Bartee believes this is an allusion to polite and proper society in that Sunday clothes can be taken to mean those clothes that her husband would wear to church, accompanied by his wife and child. Early in her critique Bartee says that the entire short story is filled with illustrations of how the storm is the driving force and main theme of Chopin’s story. She also points out that the story was published posthumously, years later, indicating, perhaps, a reluctance to share her views with a Victorian public, believing it was too graphic to be read with her name attached to it.
While it is mild by today’s standards, at the time that it was written it must have been considered a bit risque to have a woman author put her name to a story to obviously full of not only secret sexual desires and passions but infidelity and adultery. The idea that the storm passes just as the tryst is completed and Alcee is riding way is certainly an indication that the natural storm and the storm of passions, which have obviously been sated, are one and the same. Bartee points out that Calixta’s husband, Bobinot, wisely waits out the storm at the general store just as he avoids the passions of wife as well.
He is aware of what the natural storm can do and does not intend to let it batter him, likewise, Bartee says, he is aware of the passions of which his wife is capable and he does not mean to allow himself to be battered that the emotional storm brewing in his wife’s psyche. Bartee believes that Bobinot is aware of the situation, though this seems to be conjecture on her part. If this is the case then Bobinot is hiding from the passions of a wife by avoidance, and there is not enough information given to make that claim.
Bartee points out the obvious with clarity and most of what she says seems logical, but at this point she appears to be taking a leap of imagination that is not justified by the text of Kate Chopin. Calixta seems content to do her familial chores, tending to her home and seeing to her husband’s clothes. Bartee says at this point that many of the chores that she has to do are done in obvious frustration and are also symbols of the sexual repression of this Nineteenth Century homemaker. This may be the correct assessment as Chopin says that Calixta,
“ … unfastened her white sacque at the throat. It began to grow dark, and suddenly realizing the situation she got up hurriedly and went about closing windows and door,” (Chopin II-1). This, Bartee implies, is the foreshadowing that a bad storm is about to blow, and it may overwhelm her. She is leery of how bad it is going to get and takes some nominal precautions to protect her home from the approaching storm. Bartee does not address the symbolism inherent in the actions of Calixta during the initial meeting of the two former intimates.
Alcee asks for permission to take shelter on Calixta’s porch, but they both quickly realize that such shelter is totally ineffective against the fury of the storm, which, obviously at this point is not only refers to the weather but more pointedly, to the raging emotions beginning to build in the man and woman. When Calixta invites Alcee into the home of her family it is virtually a paradigm shift in her attitude toward both the old flame and to her duties as wife and mother. “He expressed an intention to remain outside, but it was soon apparent that he might as well have been out in the open,” (Chopin II-5).
The two then find it appropriate to ‘put something under the door’, to further isolate them from the outside world. The description of her husband’s clothing, intimate possessions, which cover and protect a man, are exposed outside the home. There is a real possibility that they can be lost, damaged or destroyed, just as her marriage can be lost, damaged or destroyed by her emotional storm of passion. This symbolism of them hanging outside, exposed to the elements, Bartee says, is symbolic of the danger that Calixta feels concerning the approach of the storm.
He husband’s intimate possessions are in danger of being destroyed or lost. Bartee writes, “They are in danger of blowing away from the strong winds that are approaching with the storm,” (Bartee). Alcee grabs Bobinot’s pants, which, Bartee says Wilson describes as a subversion of the constraints which Calixta, as a married woman, should be feeling. Bartee likewise correctly assesses the description Chopin gives the reader of symbolically putting away a cotton sheet.
This sheet, that covers a marriage bed, is in sight when Alcee arrives, but as the two characters talk, Calixta pointedly puts the sheet out of sight, and, if could be inferred, out of mind. Bartee does not mention that the author describes the view she has of the marriage bed itself and that Calixta is aware that the son’s sleeping couch are in view as well. This could also be taken as symbolic of the intimate glimpse Calixta is permitting a virtual stranger, an outsider to her family, to have of her home and private life.
Chopin describes the scene thus, “ The door stood open, and the room with its white, monumental bed, its closed shutters, looked dim and mysterious,” (Chopin II-9). Bartee’s opinion is that in symbolically putting away the cotton sheet, an object of domesticity, getting it out of their sight, Calixta is now symbolically clearing her mind, removing any obstacles that might stand in the way of the two as they move inexorably toward the inevitable passionate union toward which the story has been leading.
Bartee quotes lines from the story saying that not only do the two lovers lack any remorse, they feel renewed and invigorated by their act. Bartee says, “Chopin writes, “So the storm passed and everyone was happy. ” Bartee does not mention what seems to be more than a casual comment immediately prior to that line. Chopin’s penultimate line reads, “ Devoted as she was to her husband, their intimate conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while. ” This refers to the wife of Alcee, who, it seems, although unaware of the details of the tryst and the storm, has profited from it.
The fact that everyone is happy must therefore include Alcee’s wife, and she is temporarily relieved of the more mundane of her ‘wifely duties’. Still, Bartee makes an effective argument that her view is correct by backing up her opinions with pertinent blocks of dialogue from the story and by simply pointing out the obvious. Works Cited Bartee, J. The Storm: More Than Just a Story Retrieved 5-23-07 from http://facultystaff. vwc. edu/~cbellamy/Southern%20Literature/SL%20Chopin. htm Chopin, K. The Storm 1898
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