Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on June 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

When Kate Chopin prepared the collection “A Vocation and a Voice” for publication (the collection was, ultimately, not published), she excluded “The Storm” because she recognized it as too explicit and advanced for the period. Her description of passionate lovemaking would have been bad enough, but her endorsement of the adultery would have scandalized her readers.

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Chopin depicts sex as liberating and enjoyable. Indeed, for Calixta, adultery with Alcée is more satisfying than sex with her husband; it is with Alcée that “her firm, elastic flesh knew for the first time its birthright.” Lovemaking with Alcée touches “depths . . . that had never yet been reached.”

Nor does this adultery end in tragedy—quite the reverse. Calixta, who would normally be upset with her husband and child for bringing dirt into the house, welcomes them warmly. She is truly happy to be reunited with her family. Because her physical needs have been met, she can share her newfound joy with others.

Alcée’s marriage also benefits. He may be telling Clarisse to stay in Biloxi so he can pursue his affair with Calixta—though there is no evidence in the story that the two continue their liaison—but his letter is nevertheless filled with love and regard for his wife and children. Like Calixta, he is physically satisfied and so can be emotionally generous.

Clarisse eagerly snatches at Alcée’s offer. For her, as, apparently, for Calixta, marriage is confining. Calixta escapes by having sex with Alcée; Clarisse escapes by forgoing “intimate conjugal life” with him for a while. She will return to her husband, just as Calixta will remain with Bobinôt, yet this innocent adultery has given everyone a breath of freedom, cleansing them as a summer storm freshens and purifies the air.

Chopin’s characters here do not rebel against the institution of marriage; they object only to being confined by traditional roles. Given the freedom to satisfy their physical or spiritual needs, they are content with their spouses. In fact, for marriage to succeed, Chopin argues, such freedom is crucial. Far from threatening marriage, this liberty is its only means of salvation.

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