In smiling, Calixta laughs and does not express any

her short story “The Storm”, Kate Chopin shows herself to be far ahead of her time
in terms of her exploration of women’s place in American society at the turn of
the twentieth century by presenting female characters with their own sexual
agency. Both women of “The Storm” are married yet find happiness through
momentarily escaping their marriages: Calixta seeks fulfillment through an
affair with a former beau, while Clarisse finds relief in abstinence. In this
way, Chopin’s text is a feminist assertion of women’s rights over their bodies
and their relations, in a time when women had little independence and where the
acknowledgment of female sexual desire was widely censured.

           While it remains possible to
interpret Calixta’s affair with Alcée, the man who one night several years earlier
“had kissed her and kissed her and kissed her” (Chopin 546), as the
romanticised reunion of two lovers, I suggest that Chopin presents the affair
as being spurred by Calixta’s love of herself rather than by an abiding love
for Alcée. She is a woman seeking “for the first time” the “birthright” (546) of
her own sexual pleasure. Indeed, Calixta takes an active involvement in her
gratification, and though Alcée is said to have “possessed her” (547), it is
Calixta’s passion which “penetrates” (546) him: a term usually linked with
male sexuality. This gendered word associates Calixta with the ‘masculine’ sexual
urges that at the turn of the twentieth century would have been considered inappropriate
for a woman. Yet, Chopin implies the purity of Calixta’s self-indulgence
through the white imagery she is associated with. She wears a white dress, her
bed is white, her throat and breast are white, her skin is “like a creamy
lily”, her passion is “like a white flame” (546). Thus, Calixta’s passion is
not sinful, but as natural and inevitable as the storm used as its symbol. What’s
more, this passion, and its fulfillment through an extramarital relation, does
not jeopardize the stability of Calixta’s marriage with Bobinôt. After all, “the
storm passed and every one was happy” (548). When Alcée rides away and looks
back at her smiling, Calixta laughs and does not express any regret over his
departure, and when Bobinôt and Bibi come home, she “seemed to express nothing
but satisfaction at their safe return” (547). Bobinôt is even surprised at her
lack of fuss over their dirtied clothes, and the family “laughed much” (547) as
they ate the can of shrimp he had bought for her at the store where he and Bibi
had waited out the storm. In this way, Calixta easily reassumes her role of wife
and feels no shame or guilt for having pursued her long-repressed passion. Rather
than moralizing Calixta’s actions, Chopin presents them as a natural and
healthy pursuit of pleasure, which, in the brief denouement of the story, are said
to be beneficial to all involved. Whether Calixta’s decision to go beyond the limitations
of an unfulfilling marriage to achieve her pleasure is considered immoral or
justified by the reader, she is ultimately a woman pursuing her own happiness
and acting independently from her state as wife. Chopin implies that women’s
place in society should not be to fulfill their husband’s desires, sexual or
otherwise, and to ignore their own; women are autonomous beings who should share
an equal position to men in society.

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            Though her goal is entirely
opposite to Calixta’s, Clarisse equally finds relief in acting independently
from her role as wife. In taking a holiday without her husband Alcée, and thus abstaining
from her ‘wifely duty’, she takes “the first free breath since her marriage”
(548). Although she is devoted to her husband, “their intimate conjugal life
was something which she was more than willing to forego for a while” (548). Like
Calixta, Clarisse finds happiness in momentarily escaping her marriage and
returning to “the pleasant liberty of her maiden days” (548): the first is reminded
of being a debutant by reuniting with a former suitor, while the later meets
with many of her old friends and acquaintances at Biloxi. Interestingly, Alcée’s
affair seems to deepen his understanding and acceptance of his wife’s right to
autonomy. Though his motivations may be ambiguous in writing “a loving letter,
full of tender solicitude” (547) suggesting to his wife that she extend her
holiday on the night of his affair, Alcée “realizes that their Clarisse and
their children health and pleasure were the first things to be considered”
(548). His sincerity is hinted at by Chopin’s statement that Calixta and her
family laughed “so loud that anyone might have heard them as far away as
Laballière’s” (547). Alcée Laballière is thus not only “far away” form Calixta,
but her happiness in her marriage to Bobinôt is plain for him to hear, suggesting
that their infidelity is not planned to reoccur and that Alcée’s message to his
wife is heartfelt. If such is the case, then the affair is not only an
empowering act for Calixta, it equally leads to Alcée’s realization of his
wife’s, and all of women’s, rights to independence and sexual agency. In an era
where women were widely viewed by men as their subordinates, Chopin presents the
possibility of a man accepting of, and even encouraging, women’s equal rights.   

         Although questions of Calixta’s and
Alcée’s morality may distract from the gender commentary in “The Storm”, Chopin
clearly shows herself to be far ahead of her time in terms of her exploration of
women’s place in society at the turn of the twentieth century. She presents
women with their own sexual agency who act as autonomous beings separate from
their husbands in a manner which is more in tune with modern feminism than with
the gendered beliefs of her time. Though much progress has been made since the
turn of the twentieth century, the questions Chopin addresses concerning women’s
rights over their bodies are kept relevant by anti-abortion campaigns which
persist today.