Criticism of The Storm by Kate Chopin
While it has traditionally been men who have attached the “ball and chain” philosophy to marriage, Kate Chopin gave readers a woman’s view of how repressive and confining marriage can be for a woman, both spiritually and sexually. While many of her works incorporated the notion of women as repressed beings ready to erupt into a sexual a hurricane, none were as tempestuous as The Storm.
Kate Chopin was a woman whose feminist viewpoints were far ahead of her time, which of course garnered her more than her share of criticism. In a time when women were expected to behave “properly” and sexual desire was considered to be something only experienced by men, Chopin spoke with exceptional openness about human sexuality. She lambasted society for its perpetual close-mindedness in a time when righteousness was considered to be an attribute, and she helped to generate more enlightened attitudes among both the women and men of her time.
In The Storm, the character of Calixta is unable to fulfill society’s standards of virtue, despite her perceived purity by her lover Alcee. When Alcee professes, “If she was not an immaculate dove in those days, she was still inviolate” (p. 34), he is basically saying that just because a woman is not chaste, does not mean she is not pure of heart. After all, it was Calixta’s marriage which had stripped her of her chastity status. So why should her morality be called into question? Of course the morality issue lies not in whether Calixta is a virgin, but whether she is faithful to her husband. But shouldn’t the same issues of morality apply to him and his marriage? For Alcee however, the issue is more blurred because he is looking at how morality affects him personally, not how it affects the general state of society.
Like a storm, Calixta began as quiet, calm and unthreatening to man. But as her passion began to brew, she became electric and powerful; a force driven by nature, as inept at controlling her own desires as a storm is at controlling the damage it leaves in its path. Examine the following passage:
“Her lips were as red and moist as pomegranate seed. Her white neck and a glimpse of her full, firm bosom disturbed him powerfully. 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. He looked down into her eyes and there was nothing for him to do but to gather her lips in a kiss”(p. 211)
While romance novels today are filled with steamy passages like the one above, in Chopin’s time it was rarely acknowledged that women even had any sexual desires at all. Sons and daughters had been taught for generations that a woman has to do certain things to please her husband. Sex was right up there on a woman’s list of chores with washing the dishes or scrubbing the floor. By not only admitting the fact that woman have strong sexual desires, but glorifying it, Chopin crossed a threshold in both literature and thought that opened new portals of exploration and communication for both men and women.
Calixta and Alcee’s willingness to break free from the repressive constraints of their marriages and their ideals, allows them to explore “without guile or trickery” what true sexual pleasure is all about. While one might expect Alcee to be repelled by Calixta’s passion because it taints her purity, this is thankfully not the case; he is able to absorb her ardent feelings like a field absorbs the rain. The passion between these two characters is Chopin’s way of challenging the “women are on earth only to serve men” philosophy, while at the same time, inspiring a new age of sexual openness and expression that took the literary world by storm.
Criticism of The Storm by Kate Chopin