Discussion Topic

Calixta and Alcée's affair in "The Storm" and Kate Chopin's portrayal of it

Summary:

In "The Storm," Calixta and Alcée's affair is portrayed as a passionate and consensual encounter. Kate Chopin depicts the affair positively, emphasizing the characters' mutual desire and the fulfillment they find in each other. The storm symbolizes the intensity of their emotions and serves as a catalyst for their brief but intense romance, which ultimately leaves them both content and untroubled by guilt.

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Why does Calixta have an affair with Alcee in "The Storm", and how does Kate Chopin portray it?

Calixta has an illicit sexual affair with Alcee Labelliere because of the sexual tension and passion that seem to overwhelm her desire to be faithful to her husband. Just as the storm outside is unstoppable and must simply run its course, Calixta is a "passionate creature" whose married life has evidently not fulfilled this aspect of her nature. It is telling that "She had not seen [Alcee] very often since her marriage, and never alone," almost as though she has not trusted herself to be alone with him. Her husband, Bobinot, is caring and affectionate, purchasing a can of shrimp—Calixta's favorite—before leaving the store and carefully washing off all the mud with which he and Bibi are covered by the time they get home. However, with the literal storm raging outside, the figurative storm of Calixta's passionate nature overwhelms any other concern she might have. "The generous abundance of her passion, without guile or trickery, was like a white flame which penetrated and found response in depths of his own sensuous nature that had never yet been reached." Without being crass or vulgar, Chopin makes it clear that Calixta's marriage does not sexually satisfy her, treating the affair in a really nonjudgmental way. Calixta is not praised or derided for her choice, and so Chopin neither appears to condone nor to condemn the affair; she simply allows the narrator to report it. However, the picture of unbroken familial happiness—Calixta, Bobinot, and Bibi "laugh[ing] [so] much and so loud that anyone might have heard them as far away as Laballiere's"—makes it seem as though Chopin is suggesting that no real harm has been done. Further, though Alcee's wife is "charmed" by her husband's letter, the narrator tell us that "their intimate conjugal life was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while." She is, evidently, not particularly satisfied by the sexual component of her marriage either and welcomes the opportunity to escape it for a while longer. Ultimately, "the storm passed and everyone was happy." Nothing was damaged by the affair; if anything, many characters are actually happier and are reaping the benefits of the liaison.

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Why do Calixta and Alcée, both married, decide to have an affair in "The Storm"?

Kate Chopin’s short story “The Storm” describes a short, spontaneous affair between protagonists Calixta and Alcée. Although married to other people, the two share a romantic yet chaste past. Calixta has not seen Alcée much since marrying Bobinô five years earlier; each time, she certainly was not by herself. During today’s storm, however, the two are stranded alone in her house as Alcée takes refuge from the torrential rain. With Calixta’s husband Bobinô and son Bibi away on an errand and unable to return home due to the storm, Calixta and Alcée enjoy an ardent sexual encounter. Although spurred on by their passionate past, each character has a different motivation for engaging in the affair. As an overworked and stressed housewife, Calixta can briefly escape her stifling role and world by sleeping with Alcée. As a husband not fully satisfied by his wife Clarissa, Alcée fulfills his physical needs with Calixta.

Chopin introduces Calixta as an overburdened, tense homemaker so absorbed in sewing that she fails to notice the impending storm. Kept in a sweltering house by her duties, she runs outside only to gather clothes drying on a line before the rain arrives. After spotting her old flame Alcée, she allows him to take shelter inside:

His voice and her own startled her as if from a trance, and she seized Bobinôt’s vest.

Chopin reveals the tension between Calixta’s stirring desire for Alcée and her faithfulness to her husband Bobinô. After they move inside, Calixta nervously tries to clean up and frets,

I got enough to do! An’ there’s Bobinôt with Bibi out in that storm—if he only didn’ left Friedheimer’s!

She expresses resentment over her busy domestic life and family obligations. Fulfilling her role as the dutiful wife, Calixta is burdened with thankless and never-ending chores (e.g., sewing, laundry, cooking, cleaning). She takes her responsibilities seriously, perhaps a bit too fanatically as revealed by Bobinôt’s description of her as an “over-scrupulous housewife.”

Anxious about her husband and son’s safety, she recoils from the sudden lightning and thunder. Alcée tries to comfort her and their physical contact sparks their impassioned sexual encounter. During and afterwards, Calixta uncharacteristically laughs and feels free:

She was a revelation in that dim, mysterious chamber … 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.

Her decision to sleep with Alcée seems driven by an internal desire and a “birthright” to seek vitality and grace perhaps not found in her married life. Although no longer the virgin of their earlier relationship, Calixta is still light and pure in spirit; perhaps she can express herself fully only outside of her marriage. When Calixta bids Alcée goodbye, Chopin shows that Calixta has entered a different world and behaves unlike a distracted, repressed housewife:

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.

Alcée, on the other hand, seems motivated primarily by physical attraction and need. Right away and throughout their encounter, he focuses on her appearance:

She was a little fuller of figure than five years before when she married; but she had lost nothing of her vivacity. Her blue eyes still retained their melting quality; and her yellow hair, dishevelled by the wind and rain, kinked more stubbornly than ever about her ears and temples.

When he catches her after she is startled by the lightning and thunder, the

contact of her warm, palpitating body when he had unthinkingly drawn her into his arms, had aroused all the old-time infatuation and desire for her flesh.

He is excited not only by past emotions but also by her body and flesh. When he comforts her, all he sees are her “warm and steaming” face, “red and moist” round lips, pale neck, and “full, firm bosom.” He even interprets her expression as an invitation—whether or not it truly is one. Chopin describes what Alcée sees when he gazes down at her:

As she glanced up at him the fear in her liquid blue eyes had given place to a drowsy gleam that unconsciously betrayed a sensuous desire.

Although both recall kissing passionately in a different time and place, Calixta was a virgin whom Alcée had to restrain himself from deflowering. Today, however, he views her as receptive and inviting:

To save her he would resort to a desperate flight. 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. Now—well, now—her lips seemed in a manner free to be tasted, as well as her round, white throat and her whiter breasts.

To Alcée, Calixta’s physical features (eyes, lips, throat, breasts) are alluring and thus justify his actions and ownership.

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.

At the end, Chopin reveals that although Alcée loves his wife Clarisse, he perhaps is not sexually satisfied by her. Away from home with their children, Clarissa is relieved when Alcée tells her to take her time before returning. She enjoys

the first free breath since her marriage [which] 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.

This couple’s “intimate conjugal life” is active enough to produce an unspecified number of babies (perhaps more so than Calixta and Bobinô’s sex life, which yields only one son). Chopin suggests an imbalance in Alcée and Clarisse’s libido levels. Alcée probably feels unfulfilled by Clarisse, while she apparently does not want to have sex with him as often. In contrast, with Calixta, Alcée experiences the

generous abundance of her passion … like a white flame which penetrated and found response in depths of his own sensuous nature that had never yet been reached.

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