English / Chopin'S Short Stories
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Autor: anton 30 November 2010
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In the short story "The Storm" by Kate Chopin, the two main characters, Calixta and Alcee, had a flirtation several years before the story takes place, but each made a more suitable marriage to someone else and they have not seen each other since. In the present when the action takes place they are reliving that time when their passion was at its climax. This, essentially, is what the story seems to be about at the surface. Underneath the surface, there is a deeper and a larger meaning. "The Storm" helps to define the sexual standards and restraints of the late nineteenth century while also making a statement about humansâ€™ natural tendency towards sexual passion.
Chopin begins to illustrate this sexual restraint of the time by using the title "The Storm." When thought of in literary terms, a storm tends to be associated with conflict, uneasiness, and turmoil. Chopin uses the image of the storm to represent the sexual tension that builds throughout the story between Alcee and Calixta. Critic Robert Wilson suggests further that "Chopinâ€™s title refers to nature, which is symbolically feminine; the storm can therefore be seen as symbolic of feminine sexuality and passion, and the image of the storm will be returned to again and again throughout the story" (1).
Chopin begins using the illustration of the storm with Calixtaâ€™s husband, Bobinot. Bobinot decides to wait out a storm at the general store with their son, Bibi. This waiting out or avoidance of the storm suggests that Bobinot also avoids the stormy passions that his wife is clearly capable of. After this, the reader is introduced to Calixta at their home, sewing and doing other household chores, "unaware that the storm is coming" (Wilson 2). This suggests to Wilson that "her sexuality is repressed by the constraints of her marriage and societyâ€™s view of women, represented in this passage by the housework" (2). Airing out on the porch are her husbandâ€™s Sunday clothes, which Wilson says "allude to society in the form of the church" (2). The story continues with other illustrations using the storm until, finally, after Alcee and Calixtaâ€™s sexual encounter, the storm finally begins to pass and everything in the world seems renewed and fresh.
Chopin uses many of Calixtaâ€™s actions in "The Storm" to represent the sexual restraint of the time. Perhaps one of the best examples of this occurs when Calixta is doing housework. Up until Alcee arrives at the house, Calixta is working with much vigor and frustration. Calixta has some clothes that are hanging out to dry on the porch and, after Alcee arrives, they are in danger of blowing away from the strong winds that are approaching with the storm. Wilson writes, "Alcee grabs Bobinotâ€™s pants, symbolically subverting the social and marital constraints that control Calixta" (Wilson 2-3). While visiting with Alcee, Calixta talks somewhat excitedly about housework, preparing the house for the coming storm, Bobinot, and other aspects of her married life, helping to illustrate the sexual tension that she feels while around Alcee.
As the scene between Calixta and Alcee progresses even further and the storm draws nearer, both Calixta and Alcee put away their apprehensions about acting on the sexual tension that is apparent between them. This is symbolized again by Calixtaâ€™s housewifely actions. Wilson writes again about this: Calixta begins to gather up a cotton sheet that she has been sewing, in effect putting away a symbol of societyâ€™s constraints. She is becoming as unsettled as the elements outside, the passion of the storm echoing her inner emotions (3). By putting away the cotton sheet, thus putting away a reminder that she is married and has a life with another man, she is opening up to the possibility of interaction between herself and Alcee, even if the encounter turns out to be just physical without any emotion involved. Without any sort of object between herself and Alcee, Calixta is vulnerable to Alcee. Calixta now has nothing to distract her or to occupy her time and is now forcedâ€”or freeâ€”to concentrate solely on him
After Alcee and Calixtaâ€™s sexual encounter, the storm begins to depart. At this point, Calixta and Alcee are faced with the aftermath of what they have done. Instead of regretting the act, however, Calixta and Alcee feel renewed. In the last line of "The Storm" Chopin writes, "So the storm passed and everyone was happy" (309). Wilson underscores this, writing, "as Alcee leaves, he turns and smiles, and Calixta laughs out loud; her passion is seen to be natural, experienced without guilt or shame" (4). Calixta seems to receive something from the sexual encounter with Alcee that she does not receive with her husband Bobinot. Through this encounter with Alcee, Calixta is able to release her true feminine sexuality in a completely different manner than she is able to in her married union with Bobinot.
Not only is "The Storm" a story about humansâ€™ natural sexual tendencies, but this story also represents the sexual reservations of Chopinâ€™s particular time period. Chopin herself seemed to be very much in touch with her feminine sexuality. Through her writing of this story, she was able to not only express her own thoughts about sexuality, but she was also able to make a private statement about her feelings on the sexual mores of the current time period. Since Chopin, according to her biographer Emily Toth, did not attempt to publish "The Storm," this statement remained private until the story was discovered decades later among papers and journals in her grandsonâ€™s attic.
The title of Kate Chopinâ€™s short story, "Desireeâ€™s Baby," would suggest to the reader that the story is about a baby, specifically Desireeâ€™s baby. Although the story does revolve around Desireeâ€™s baby, the storyâ€™s main message centers around racial prejudices with a strong current of religious symbolism. The baby is simply the form that brings these issues to the surface.
Perhaps the most important of these issues is that of color or race. In "Desireeâ€™s Baby," white is depicted as a symbol of good and God, while black is depicted as a symbol of evil and Satan. Chopin leads her readers into becoming sympathetic with the "beautiful, gentle, affectionate and sincere" (301) and therefore white and good Desiree. However, Chopin cleverly disguises the fact that Desiree is also racially prejudiced and views herself as unworthy and her life not worth living once she believes she is black.
Throughout the story, black and mulatto characters are rarely referred to by name, including Desireeâ€™s own baby. Desireeâ€™s baby is always referred to by "it" "he" or "the baby." In another line, Desiree is talking to her mother and states "and mamma . . . he hasnâ€™t punished one of themâ€“not one of themâ€“since baby is born" (Chopin 302) which is referring to the black slaves who work on the plantation. In another passage, Desiree has her first suspicion that something is wrong and connects it to "an air of mystery among the blacks" (Chopin 303). There are three exceptions in the story in which people of color are referred to by name. Zandrine, Negrillion and La Blanche. The latter two have black representations. Negrillion has all the letters of Negro in the name and La Blanche means to take color from. This could indicate a black person who is not as dark skinned as most of the black population. The fact that black people are not provided with proper names dehumanizes them and supports Desireeâ€™s own racial fears or prejudices.
In addition, when Desiree first realized her baby was not white her "face was the â€˜picture of frightâ€™" (Chopin 303). Shortly thereafter, Desiree approaches her husband, Armand, with her suspicion that the baby is not white. Armand immediately places the blame on Desiree for the babyâ€™s skin color and denies loving her anymore. Upon learning this, Desiree writes her mother and says "For Godâ€™s sake tell them it is not true" and further states "I shall die, I must die. I cannot be so unhappy, and live" (Chopin 304). In this passage, when Desiree is acknowledging that she can not live, she never refers to her marriage or Armand. Desireeâ€™s only concern was the color of her skin.
When her mother wrote her back, she did not answer Desireeâ€™s question regarding her race. But her silence on the matter told Desiree louder than words that she was indeed black. Most mothers would have responded with whatever soothing words their children so desperately needed to hear. The evidence seems to be that the mother did not know the race of her foundling child, but she could have lied and told Desiree she was white and to come home where she was loved. Instead, her mother sends a brief note calling her home where she is loved and to "come with your child" (Chopin 304). The mother does not indicate that the child (who might be black) was also loved, but her silence on the matter of race also sends another loud message. That message is that race does not matter. The mother does not mention race she only mentions love.
If Desiree was so distraught over losing Armandâ€™s love, she would have written her mother for advise, not just the answer to whether she was white or black. She would have asked what should she do, could the problem be fixed, or questions about her future. Also, if someone doesnâ€™t love another person any longer they would most likely go where they knew they would be loved and comforted, such as a motherâ€™s home. Instead Desiree chose to kill herself and her baby by disappearing into the bayou. This action shows that Desiree feared she would never be accepted in her husbandâ€™s or even her motherâ€™s white world. Also, Desiree knew she would never be able to find another white husband or father for her baby. Basically, Desiree would never again be accepted in white society and this she could not bear.
In the story, good is synonymous with white and godliness and black with bad and evil. Now that the readers are led to believe that Desiree is black, how do the readers reconcile themselves with Desiree still being good? This is where Chopin shows her true gift as a writer.
Throughout the story, Chopinâ€™s description of Desiree leads the readers to think of her as white, good and virtuous. Her hair is long and silky and she has gray eyes and fair skin. Her physical description is more typical of a white person than a black person. She is also gentle, sincere and innocent, traits that are equated with goodness. Desiree is described as beautiful, and her clothes are white and soft. In short, Desiree is the vision of an angel. In fact, her name means much desired. These are qualities we all desire.
In contrast, Armandâ€™s description leads the readers to think of black and evil. He has a dark, handsome face. He also has strict, cold eyes and an imperious, exacting nature. After Armand comes to the realization that Desiree is black, Chopin describes his dealings with the slaves as having the spirit of Satan and him as having an inhuman soul. In this passage Chopin states "the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves" (303). Even Armandâ€™s home is described as having a roof that is steep and black like a cowl. Armandâ€™s qualities are not ones the readers would find desirable.
Although Robert Arner in his article "Pride and Prejudice" suggests Desiree only lacks a halo in the ending scene, the description of Desiree walking into the bayou suggests otherwise (75). According to Chopin, when Desiree walks into the Bayou, her hair "radiates a golden gleam" (304). This description gives the readers a visual image of a halo. Additionally, Desiree was still in her "thin white garment" and she "walked across a deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet, so delicately shod, and tore her thin gown to shreds" (Chopin 304). In this scene, the readers are given an image of an angel silently walking to her crucifixion. Armand on the other hand is described as sitting in a great hall, watching a big bonfire and burning all that is good. This is a very good description of hell.
In her discussion of "Desireeâ€™s Baby" in Short Story Criticism, Barbara Ewell states that in the construction of the story, "blackness becomes the mark of universal human darkness, that demonic region where â€˜the very spirit of Satanâ€™ takes hold." She also believes the story is an indication of Chopinâ€™s "continuing ambivalence about race" (106).
It is not until the very end of the story that race and religion are reconciled for the readers. Just before the end, Desiree goes off into the bayou never to return so as not to impose her blackness on others. However, the readerâ€™s sympathies still lie with Desiree. Desireeâ€™s prejudices appear to be a result of society and not any inherent meanness within her. Desiree is basically an innocent who knew no other way of life.
On the other hand, Armand is sitting before a huge bonfire burning items that represent goodness. The bonfire is a symbol of hell. In the end, you have a good black angel going off to die and a bad white devil that lives. It is not until the last sentence that the readers are informed that the angel, Desiree, is indeed white and the devil, Armand, is black.
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