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In Kate Chopin’s 1898 short story “The Storm,” the author’s use of nature as a metaphor for human relations and sexual passion is not particularly subtle. From the start, Chopin used nature as an instrument for conveying sentiments and for providing a context in which her human characters function. From the perspective of Bobinot, the innocent, well-intentioned husband and father whose betrayal at the hands of his wife will provide the story’s climactic passage, the role of nature is to establish a sense of foreboding. As Bobinot and his four-year-old son Bibi prepare to depart the local store, the approaching storm establishes the setting:
“. . . somber clouds that were rolling with sinister intention from the west, accompanied by a sullen, threatening roar.”
As Bobinot and Bibi settle down to wait out the storm, Chopin’s use of nature to propel her story and to symbolize human passions takes on an added dimension. The scene of the story shifts to Bobinot and Calixta, his wife’s, home, where she is dutifully sewing cloth in the quintessential picture of domestic tranquility. She fails to notice the storm’s approach, but, when it arrives, is quick to go outside to retrieve the laundry hanging on a line. At this point, the storm’s role in the story goes from one of foreboding to one of repressed sexuality suddenly and forcefully unleashed. The arrival of Calixta’s former lover, Alcee, provides the opportunity for Chopin to direct a convergence between nature and human desire. Thunderstorms have frequently been employed as plot devices to suggest disparate moods, from fear and trepidation to passion. In “The Storm,” the weather serves to break down Calixta’s inhibitions:
“The playing of the lightning was incessant. A bolt struck a tall chinaberry tree at the edge of the field. It filled all visible space with a blinding glare and the crash seemed to invade the very boards they stood upon.”
“Calixta put her hands to her eyes, and with a cry, staggered backward. Alcée's arm encircled her, and for an instant he drew her close and spasmodically to him.
"Bonté!"(2)Bonté: Heavens! she cried, releasing herself from his encircling arm and retreating from the wind”
Calixta and Alcee engage in passionate and spontaneous sex, with the moment’s conclusion marked by the storm’s end. Chopin has used the storm to symbolize the emotional transformations taking place among her human characters. As the author brings this brief encounter to an end, she notes the dissipation of the torrential rainfall:
“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 way.”
Chopin ends her story with Alcee’s letter to his wife, Clarisse, who is away with their children, and who has enjoyed the respite from marriage and the burdens associated with submission to a husband:
“Devoted as she was to her husband, their conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while.
“So the storm passed and everyone was happy.”
The storm in Chopin’s story is a character that moves through the lives of her human characters and influences their conduct. It serves to keep Bobinot away and to fuel Calixta’s passions. Absent the storm, it is highly unlikely Alcee would have been inside Bobinot’s home and engaging his wife in a torrent of infidelity.
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