The narrator's tone in this story is one of enabling encouragement. The voice we hear seems almost to be encouraging the characters in their decisions to have affairs and keep them secret, or to even bring people together through the almost magical power of the cyclone that's raging around them.
The tone seems to sympathize with the fact that Alcée and Calixta's affair can only last as long as the storm itself: that when it ends they must part rather than falling asleep together. When each character enters the story to speak or share his or her ideas, the tone melds around that person and provides sympathy for that point of view. Bibi's concern, Bobinôt's worry, Calixta's desire, Alcée's graceful deceit, and Clarisse's relief are all conveyed with equal measure. The tone presents them all as equally valid ways of approaching the world.
The genre of "The Storm" is easy to figure out simply based on its form. Coming in at fewer than 2,000 words, it's easily categorized as a short story in terms of length. From a content standpoint, it fits nicely into the "short story" category as well, since it covers a brief moment in time, a limited number of characters, and describes both a conflict and a resolution within that same short word count.
In other words, the form and content match. You could think of it as similar to a sonnet; the short story form presents certain confines that the story being told has to fit into.
We could also be grander, though, and describe the story more broadly as "literary fiction," since it is, after all, a recognizable piece of literature by a canonical author.
First off, it's hard to think of a more appropriate title for this story than "The Storm." There would be no story without the storm; it guides the entire narrative and affects each of the characters in some way. It's almost more the storm's story than the characters'.
Since the story wasn't published until after Chopin died, we can be pretty sure that she named the story without input from an editor or publisher (source). This story is all hers, and so is the title.
On a deeper level, the title refers to more than just the meteorological storm; it may also allude to Calixta and Alcée's explosive and life-changing sex. For more on the idea of the storm as a symbol, check out our section, "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory: The Storm."
By the way, it's worth noting that the story originally had a subtitle, too: "A Sequel to 'At the 'Cadian Ball" (source). Chopin's story "At the 'Cadian Ball," which takes place years before "The Storm." Want to know what happens in that story? Of course you do:
Bobinôt wants to go to a ball because Calixta might be there. He likes her, but she doesn't seem to like him back. Meanwhile, Alcée has fallen for Clarisse, who doesn't seem to like him back either. The night of the ball, Alcée decides to cope with his poor harvest by drinking and heading to the dance, even though he's from a different class than Bobinôt and Calixta and seems somewhat out of place there. (See "Setting" for more on class differences in the story.) At the dance, Alcée and Calixta separate from everyone else, and we find out that he's involved in a romantic scandal from her past. They seem to still have feelings for each other. Suddenly, Clarisse shows up and makes Alcée go away with her. Calixta is left behind and asks Bobinôt to take her home. As they're leaving, she accepts his proposal of marriage. Meanwhile, Clarisse confesses that she loves Alcée as the ball ends.
The ending seems pretty clear.
Or is it? That's the trick with a lot of good short stories. They lead you in one direction and then twist things all around at the last second. You close the book thinking, "Holy crap. Did that just happen?"
So what happens in this story? Is it a straightforward ending, or is there more at stake? Let's take a look.
From a plot standpoint, the storm ends and so does the affair. It doesn't seem like anyone discovered the secret – Calixta and Alcée have their affair and seem to keep both their spouses, Bobinôt and Clarisse, from suspecting anything. The narrative ends with the line, "So the storm passed and every one was happy" (5.2). Sounds pretty neat, right? The storm and the affair are both over, all tied up in a bow.
Hmm. Well even if you haven't experienced any extramarital affairs, you've probably read about some of them. Let's see… Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, The Awakening... We're sensing a theme here: affairs in fiction don't usually end well. So what are the chances this one has? When the storm ends, is that the end for Calixta and Alcée? Or do you think they'll try to set up another rendezvous? The story sure seems to indicate that whatever they get up to is the best thing Calixta has ever experienced. She'd only be human if she tried to recreate that pleasure later.
There's also the question of whether Bobinôt or Clarisse suspect anything. We think it's likely, judging from the text, that Bobinôt doesn't. Sure, he thinks it's kind of weird that Calixta doesn't tell him off for coming home all grimy, but that can explained by her relief that he and Bibi made it through the storm OK. But what about Clarisse? She's all too ready to take a break at the end from what she calls her "conjugal life" (5.1), which she sees as a duty. It would be easy for her to take Alcée's letter at face value – that he's doing just fine on his own – and turn a blind eye to whatever it is that's making him OK with their separation.
Regardless of whether the affair actually ends or not, or whether Clarisse and Bobinôt ever find out about it, the last word of the text is "happy." Everybody is "happy" at the end. That's what counts, right? And maybe that's why this story couldn't be published in the 1800s. (See "In a Nutshell" for more on that.)
This story takes place in the small town in Louisiana where all the characters live. A small fraction of the action takes place at Friedheimer's store, Alcée's house, and the house where Clarisse is vacationing, but the most important setting is Calixta and Bobinôt's home – when Bobinôt is not there. Instead, another man comes into his domestic space and literally takes his place in the bedroom, having sex with his wife. Alcée and Calixta are not only trapped in the house during the storm, they almost seem forced into the bedroom – pushed into each other's arms and then onto the bed.
The home itself isn't described that much: it has a "small front gallery" (porch) (2.2), a room that is "the dining room – the sitting room – the general utility room" (2.8), and a bedroom that holds a "white, monumental bed" and looked "dim and mysterious" (2.8). The house gives Alcée and Calixta shelter during that storm and allows them to be together. The storm almost seems to have more of a presence than the house.
One thing that stands out here, of course, is the fact that the storm is taking place during the important sexualized scene, keeping Alcée and Calixta within the house, and Bobinôt and Bibi outside of it. When the storm dissipates, Alcée and Calixta must go their separate ways, seemingly much richer for their encounter. When Bobinôt reenters his own home, he has no idea of the torrid encounter that just happened there. Clarisse, too, is removed from the main area of action – she's in another state.
On a larger scale, the setting reminds us of the characters' places in the world. As the Kate Chopin International Society's site points out, there are some subtle class differences between the four main characters represented in "The Storm":
Alcée and his wife Clarisse are Creoles, descendants of French settlers in Louisiana. Calixta and her husband Bobinôt are Acadians, descendants of French-American exiles from Acadia, Nova Scotia. (source)
Even though they all shared French ancestry, the Creoles and Acadians maintained strict social boundaries and class differences during this time. The Creole characters, Alcée and Clarisse, are of a higher class than the Acadians, Calixta and Bobinôt. Yet Calixta and Bobinôt aren't doing so badly: they can still afford their own home. We know it's most likely not as grand as Clarisse and Alcée's, but they make enough money to have their own space and to employ a maid.
You can see these class differences in the way the characters speak and the way their thoughts are represented in the narrative. (Psst. For more on that, check out our section "Narrator Point of View," then come back). For example, the story's conversations are rich in period-accurate dialect. Calixta and Bobinôt talk like the "'Cadians" (Acadians) who lived in Louisiana during the 1890s would have (source). Their language is a rich combination of French and English. By contrast, Alcée uses less dialect than they do. When he speaks in this story, he does so in more formal English, even though he understands Calixta's French.
So the way Chopin's characters speak reveals a lot about them and their relationships with the other characters. Each time Chopin's characters open their mouths, readers are reminded of where they came from, what their class standing was, and how they fit into 19th century Louisiana society.
Want to learn more about the setting? Check out "At the 'Cadian Ball," Chopin's prequel to "The Storm."
This story is pretty straightforward, although the characters' names are unfamiliar to most of us and there's some use of Creole dialect. However, it's usually pretty easy to figure out what the characters are saying in context, and it's not like these are the weirdest names in all of literature. (Huckleberry Finn, we're looking at you!)
More than anything else, Chopin's style in this story is one of fluidity. She transitions smoothly and rapidly not only among five characters' points of view – Bibi, Bobinôt, Calixta, Alcée, and Clarisse – but through an explicit sexual encounter and its aftermath. In addition to negotiating a deceptive act, and keeping all her characters' secrets, she also moves fluidly back and forth between different kinds of language. In this passage, for example, she smoothly unites two very different ways of speaking: the dialect Bobinôt uses to speak to his son and the sophisticated language the narrator uses to tell the story.
'My! Bibi, w'at will yo' mama say! You ought to be ashame'. You oughta' put on those good pants. Look at 'em! An' that mud on yo' collar! How you got that mud on yo' collar, Bibi? I never saw such a boy!' Bibi was the picture of pathetic resignation. Bobinôt was the embodiment of serious solicitude as he strove to remove from his own person and his son's the signs of their tramp over heavy roads and through wet fields. (3.3)
Note the abrupt change of diction and vocabulary halfway through this passage. We move from Bobinôt's clipped words and casual phrasing – "w'at," "yo'," "oughta'" – to more complex, perhaps overly serious phrases like "pathetic resignation" and "embodiment of serious solicitude." The way Bobinôt speaks is very different from the way the narrator describes a scene.
We're reminded not only of the difference between Bobinôt and the narrator, then, but also of the differences between Bobinôt and Calixta – who speak in a more informal, Cajun dialect (source) – and Alcée and Clarisse – who use more formal language, similar to that used by the narrator. (See "Setting" for more on these class differences.) Yet here the two kinds of dialogue are not even separated by a paragraph break. They occur practically in the same space, a reminder of the author's skill and fluidity in combining elements of language.
The storm is a super obvious symbol. It's involved in practically every element of the story. First off, it's the title. Second, it plays a huge role in the plot, forming the beginning and the end of the story. It also plays a really important part in the middle by bringing Calixta and Alcée together, pushing them into each other's arms and giving them the time and space to get physical before the world outside returns to normal.
From a literal standpoint, the storm is a frightening occurrence in the natural world. Alcée describes it as "a cyclone" (2.13), while Bobinôt can tell right away that it's "sombre," "sinister," and "threatening" (1.1). Chopin describes the rain pouring down with a repetition and regularity that suggests rain itself. Let's check out how the storm builds:
Of course, it's when all that rain is coming down most passionately and ferociously that Calixta and Alcée are exploring their feelings for one another to the fullest.
Many critics have observed that the storm's passion is similar to that shared by Calixta and Alcée. As scholar Joanna Bartee points out, for example, "Chopin uses the image of the storm to represent the sexual tension that builds throughout the story between Alcee and Calixta" (source). You could say, for example, that the lightning and thunder playing outside Calixta's home foreshadows the sexual encounter that is about to take place:
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. (2.14)
Compare that to the way Calixta and Alcée's bodies come together, as described just a few paragraphs later:
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. (2.21)
The lightning bolt is described more clearly than the "possess[ion]" that follows, but they both get at the same thing: a huge, albeit temporary, explosion of energy and feeling.
If you'd like to read more about the storm, check out one of these sections:
Assumption is the small town where Calixta and Alcée met up and shared kisses long ago. It's also, tellingly, where they did not give in to their carnal desires completely – they never had sex there. The name Assumption has religious connotations that remind us of virginity and chastity. In Christianity, it's a reference to a specific event: the Virgin Mary's ascent to heaven after she dies.
Instead of having sex in a place associated with virginity, the place Calixta and Alcée finally consummate their feelings for one another is in Calixta's home. However, it's the memory of their time in Assumption – a place reminiscent of chastity where they couldn't be together – that sparks a more mature, adult interlude between them.
For more on the connection of Calixta's home and her sexual encounter with Alcée, see "Setting."
With all the whiteness mentioned repeatedly throughout the story, "The Storm" practically reaches Moby-Dick levels. White usually symbolizes purity or chastity, but this story twists it around to represent sexual desire and longing.
Consider all the times white is mentioned in the story, usually in relation to Calixta:
While this whiteness in literature would traditionally refer to a body that the male character couldn't access, that purity is transformed into sexuality here. The "flame" of Calixta's "passion" is "white"; her body in all its ecstasy is "like a creamy lily." In this story, the color white might almost be better understood as red-hot. It means giving in, not holding back.
Third person omniscient is perfect for this story. Of the five sections, each comes at us from a different character or characters' point of view. We emerge from the story knowing exactly how everyone feels once the storm has passed.
Sounds easy, right? New section, new narrator(s). Well, that's kind of true. The thing about Chopin's narration is that it seems simple, but it's actually kind of complicated. Let's take a look:
Oh! she remembered; for in Assumption he had kissed her and kissed and kissed her; until his senses would well nigh fail, and 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. (2.18)
Interesting stuff going on with point of view here. Whose point of view is this passage from, Calixta's or Alcée's? We hear from both of them in just one paragraph: "she remembered," "his honor forbade him," etc. In the present, we feel both of them share their memory and respond to it. In the past we relive how she was "inviolate," how he would "resort to a desperate flight." Back in the present, the passage ends by leaving the specific point of view ambiguous through the use of passive voice: "her lips seemed in a manner free to be tasted." Who's thinking this part? Does it feel to Alcée like the lips are free, or does Calixta feel like she's presenting them that way? The benefit of third person point of view here is the way it enables the narrative to move back and forth between the two characters so quickly, creating a more three-dimensional image of what this present moment is like.
In a classic beginning, danger lurks from that old menace, Mother Nature herself. The man of the house, Bobinôt, is away from home and can't protect his wife. Readers are given the impression that a woman is alone and possibly in danger back at the ranch. This scene is a lot like the tornado at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, setting the stage for what's to come.
It would be one thing if Calixta had to wait out the storm alone in the big house, worrying about her husband and small son being in danger out in the storm. But she's not alone: as soon as the storm starts, a cute guy rolls up – a guy she has a history with. That's a complication waiting to happen!
As we were just saying, this conflict is a complicated one. First Alcée shows up and keeps Calixta from being alone. While it's technically OK for them to be alone together from a societal standpoint (they're both married, and it's a cyclone), it's pretty clear they both feel a little weird about it. That weirdness is compounded when they start having flashbacks to the more physical interludes they had in the past. Once they start remembering their attraction to another, it's a slippery slope to acting on that attraction again.
We realize that putting this scene in this category is a bad pun waiting to happen. It's impossible to avoid, though, since this is the most exciting part of the story, the part where the characters are either approaching or coming down from their high point. Both the story and the characters reach their high points at the same time here. It's rare that this element of the plot is played out so literally in fiction, but it happens from time to time.
Here we wait with bated breath. Will Bibi and Bobinôt get home before Alcée leaves? Will they cross paths? Will Calixta be able to cover up what has just happened? For his part, Bobinôt worries over whether Calixta will be angry with them when they return home. It's a state of worry about a possible set of repercussions or punishment – but it all turns out to be just fine.
Here we see the aftereffects of the previous scenes, as Alcée reacts to his affair by telling his wife that she can stay away longer on her vacation. While he presents his request as a favor he's making on her behalf and as proof of his love for her, we readers know he's doing it not because he's selfless, but because he just got laid. Luckily, his wife is cool with getting more downtime before coming back to her marriage.
The story is thus neatly tied up in a bow. No one's going to find out about all the action that just happened. Alcée and Calixta's secret is officially safe, dissipating just as the storm itself has. Whether the other characters suspect some change is a separate issue. At the ending of the story, everything is fine.