What is the irony in "The Storm" by Kate Chopin?

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The biggest irony in “The Storm” by Kate Chopin is that an act of infidelity brings happiness to the adulterous pair. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen. More often than not, infidelity leads to sorrow and emotional pain, but not in this case.

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Kate Chopin’s celebration of the alleged joys of adultery must have been pretty shocking to a contemporary audience. Actually, it’s still pretty shocking today, as we are now more clued-in than ever before as to the damaging effects of men and women cheating on each other. In particular, we are more aware than ever before of just how damaging adultery can be on children in a marriage.

And yet, as Chopin presents it, the illicit relationship between Calixta and Alcée is most enjoyable for both of them. There is no pain here, no guilt, no second thoughts. They throw themselves into a rekindling of their former romance with complete abandon and enjoy every last minute of their affair.

Further irony can be observed in the fact that the lovers are actually happier with their respective marriages after their affair than they were before. Again, this turns our expectations upside down. Adultery is supposed to damage marriages, even if the cuckolded partners remain blissfully unaware of what’s going on, as in this case. At the very least, it’s supposed to lead to unhappiness and unfulfillment among those who cheat on their wives and husbands. But the normal rules don’t apply here, which is somewhat ironic, to say the least.

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Since Kate Chopin's "The Storm" is a sequel to her story entitled "At the 'Cadian Ball," it is important to consider this other narrative as contributing to what is ironic in this story. Arguably, then, it is ironic when Alcée and Calixta, who "talked low, and laughed softly, as lovers do" at the Acadian ball before they each married are again placed privately together as a raging storm brews. But, as their fears are heightened in this storm, it is not surprising that their previously unsatisfied passions resurface in their emotional states.

It is the dramatic irony of Calixta's unsuspecting husband's return as well as the irony of situation in which Calixta and Alcée both are happier with their spouses after their acts of adultery than previously (Alcée writes his wife a loving letter in which he allows her to lengthen her familial visit and Calixta excitedly delights in the shrimp that Bobinôt brings home), that stand out as strong examples of irony in "The Storm." In fact, Chopin remarks upon this ironic turn of events: "So the storm passed, and every one was happy."

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In Kate Chopin's short story "The Storm," the irony is situational. Situational irony occurs when there is a difference between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. The story contains dramatic irony, which is defined as the audience or readers having knowledge that the characters do not have.

The setting of this story is a torrential rain storm. Calixta, who is married to Bobint and has a son named Bibi, is home alone when the storm hits. Her husband and young son find shelter at the store. Alce, a man Calixta knew before her marriage, is passing through and is caught in the storm. At first, he resolves to stay outside and under cover, but the storm is so strong that it drives him inside. Their passions for each other are ignited, and they end up having an affair. This is ironic because when they knew each other before when they were both free, Alce did not feel he could violate her honor. Consider the following quote: 

"If she was not an immaculate dove in those days, she was still inviolate; a passionate creature whose very defenselessness had made her defense, against which his honor forbade him to prevail."

Calixta now knows "her birthright" for the first time. 

"Her firm, elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its birthright..."

After the storm is over, Calixta is glad to see her husband and son and happy they are safe. Likewise, Alce writes his wife a love letter. Readers are aware of the affair between Calixta and Alce, but neither of their spouses suspects the infidelity, which, one could argue, might constitute a kind of dramatic irony.

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The irony in this excellent short story lies in the impact of the adulterous relationship between Calixta and Alcee on their marriages. There is situational irony in the way that we expect that such a tempestuous (no pun intended) session of lovemaking, which is presented very explicitly but also in a way that suggests that Calixta and Alcee are somehow meant for each other actually benefits their respective marriages. Note how their union is presented:

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.

Phrases such as Calixta knowing her "birthright" whilst having extra-marital sex with Alcee suggest that she will be unable to return to her husband after this. However, after the storm of passion that has been unleashed, the air appears to have been cleared, and both Calixta and Alcee are shown to return even happier than before to their respective partners:

So the storm passed and everyone was happy.

This is the irony in this excellent short story, as Chopin shockingly suggests that such outlets of tempestuous passion can actually help marriage rather than destroy it.

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How does Kate Chopin use irony in "The Storm"?    

Chopin uses both situational irony and dramatic irony in "The Storm." In situational irony, the irony arises from the events in a story. In dramatic irony, the audience knows what characters in the story do not.

Ironically, the violent storm, with its threat of floods and disaster, leads to a period of liberation and happiness for Calixta, Alcée, and his wife, Clarisse. Rather than raising fear, it becomes a time of bliss for Calixta and Alcée, opening a space for them to consummate their love. It provides Clarisse with a sense of peace as well, a welcome break from her husband:

And the first free breath since her marriage seemed to restore the pleasant liberty of her maiden days. Devoted as she was to her husband, their intimate conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while.

Ironically, too, while infidelity would normally suggest unhappy marriages, both Calixta and Alcée seem contented with their marital lives—the brief affair is just a pleasant interlude. Calixta, for example, is happy to see her husband and son, and they are happy to see her:

Bobinôt and Bibi began to relax and enjoy themselves, and when the three seated themselves at table they laughed much and so loud that anyone might have heard them as far away as Laballières.

The storm has not brought tragedy or disaster to these families but a refreshing interlude. Even Bobinôt and Bibi seem to have enjoyed themselves.

The dramatic irony of the story is that we as readers know that Alcée and Calixta have had a sexual encounter, while their spouses are unaware of this. Ironically, the sexual liaison does not cause even a ripple in the domestic lives of the characters—it is as if it didn't happen. Another dramatic irony is that Alcée doesn't know that his wife is glad to have a break from "intimate conjugal" relations with him, while Calixta, who has just done something her society would consider "unclean," is unaware of the efforts Bobinôt has gone to clean the literal mud from himself and Bibi. Normally a storm is a metaphor for turmoil, but in this case, nothing bad has happened, and life goes on.

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