“The Storm” and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

Introduction

Kate Chopin was an American author who wrote feminist theme based short stories. The themes of her stories related to female sexuality, liberation and her works received extensive criticism from moral watch watchdogs of the day and her works were accused of promoting promiscuity. This paper compares and contrasts two of her famous works, ‘The Storm’ and ‘The Story of an Hour’. Comparison of the two works is done by examining various themes and characters.

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Comparison of the main characters

The two leading characters in the stories are a study by themselves. There is Calixta, the heroine from The Storm and then there is Mrs. Mallard, the heroine from The Story of an Hour. Calixta is a women living on the frontier with her husband and child and she is quite uninhibited though her sexuality is repressed. Mrs. Mallard on the other hand is living in a town and is loved by her husband who has always treated her tenderly. On the face of it, both ladies are the epitome of piety and modesty and have never strayed in the married life. However, when the opportunity in the case of Calixta and fate in the case of Mrs. Mallard steps in, the ladies succumb to passion. Calixta goes physical and has sex with her lover Alcée Laballière while in the case of Mrs. Mallard, her lover is her repression that has been set free when news of her husbands death is announced. The storm in the case of Claixta is both the real storm with thunder and lighting and the storm of passion in which she gives herself to her lover, unabashedly and blissfully. In the case of Mrs. Mallard, there is no physical lover but it is only her sexuality that has been liberated when she suddenly realizes that she is single, free and can do what she wants (Chopin, 2002).

Miall (2004) points out that the ladies in the early 18th century when Kate wrote her works were regarded as drudges and menial servants and very often, back breaking work, interrupted by child bearing and rearing duties was what they were supposed to do. Men on the other hand, all the license and freedom to indulge in whatever kind of behavior that they felt was appropriate and no questions were asked. Therefore, the portrayal of Calixta in the novel invited severe controversies, as it was unthinkable for a decent married woman to behave like a harlot. Chopin as one of champions of the feminist liberation was vocal in her belief that women were not cattle but had the right to free thought and behaviour of their own. This is best reflected in the character Calixta. “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. He stayed cushioned upon her, breathless, dazed, enervated, with his heart beating like a hammer upon her. With one hand she clasped his head, her lips lightly touching his forehead. The other hand stroked with a soothing rhythm his muscular shoulders”.

The character of Mrs. Mallard is to a certain extent following the stereotyped characterization of women in those days, she was quiet, happy with her husband but there was a wild lust inside that seemed to be simmering inside. When she receives news of her husbands death, the grief is immediate and her friends are worried since Mrs. Mallard has a heart problem. When she goes inside a room and locks herself in, her friend is worried at what Mrs. Mallard would do to herself. However, in reality, Mrs. Mallard is enjoying her first minutes of freedom in seclusion. “…When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under the breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood…“.

Interpretations of the married life of the two heroines

Bloom (1987) points out that marriage, children, family and relation with the spouse was central to the themes of stories in frontier America. No matter how liberated the women was, how radical the feminist author was, the female characters tended to use their sexuality as a sign of rebellion against male dominance. From the reading of the ‘The Story of an Hour’, Mrs. Mallard has never complained of any ill treatment by her husband or denial of conjugal bliss. However, Chopin attempts to suggest that marriage in itself is a great burden and chains that a woman carries and it is only freedom from marriage that would result in freedom from perceived oppression. In the initial stages, Mrs. Mallard expresses sadness and grief that her husband is dead and she longs to see his hands and face in the coffin. However, the grief is short lived and her sexuality that had been repressed by marriage starts to flower and though she tries to quell this feeling, it comes out in waves and soon engulfs her. To Mrs. Mallard, freedom from marriage caused by the death of her husband is freedom from bondage. In the case of Calixta, the feelings are different. She is married to a presumably virile husband but the coincidental appearance of her former lover when her husband and child are absent has created a flood of feelings that her marriage has pent up. Her husband has never been able to penetrate this core and release the flood and it is only her former lover who takes but an instant to breach the pent up emotions.

Koloski (1994) has argued that the stories are not about wanton sexual behavior but that represents the sexual moralities and reservations of the era during which Chopin wrote her story. The author points out that so great was sexual repression of women in those times that Chopin was afraid to get her story published, afraid of the moral backlash and anger that the predominantly male customers would heap on her. Marriage was a holy alliance taken before god as a witness and any attempts to breach this alliance was unacceptable. However, both the heroines do manage to break the walls, Calixta by taking up physical relations with another man and Mrs. Mallard by setting her mind free from the repression.

Behaviour of the heroines after the act

Stein (2005) points out that there is a profound difference in the manner in which the two women behave after the act of liberation. Calixta has just emerged after making love to another man and she emerges virtually unscathed in her attitude. She is found busy preparing supper and greets her husband as if nothing untoward has happened. The unsuspecting husband on the other hand is busy cleaning himself of the mud that the storm has brought on him and the mud and dirt is only on his exterior. However, Calixta who should have showed some amount of remorse has cleansed her conscience and is free from guilt. To her nothing outward has happened and the act of adultery was nothing but a craving of the physical urge that has been satiated, something like hunger or thirst and probably she would relish the encounter much like one does after a tasty meal. The character of Mrs. Mallard is one that has undergone deep grief when informed of her husband’s death, then she feels happiness that his death has freed her and when she discovers that he is alive, her heart can take it no more and she dies of heart attack. Stein has argued that the character of Mrs. Stein is actually much more homely and pious and the very act of expressing happiness on her husbands death is like adultery. So, when she sees her husband, she feels as if she has been caught in the act of adultery and this feeling of shock, remorse, shame and grief is so great that she collapses of heart failure. This is the contrast and comparison of the heroines in the two stories.

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The paper has examined the two stories and has compared and contrasted the main characters of the stories. Calixta has willingly taken up adultery and feels no remorse while Mrs. Mallard has undergoes trauma on finding her husband alive and dies.

References

  1. Bloom, Harold. 1987. Introduction. Modern Critical Views: Kate Chopin. Ed. Harold Bloom. Pennsylvania: Chelsea House Publishers
  2. Chopin Kate 2002. Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Short Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of American Literature.
  3. Koloski, Bernard. 1994. The Anthologized Chopin: Kate Chopin’s Short Stories in Yesterday’s and Today’s Anthologies. Louisiana Literature, 11. pp: 18-30
  4. Miall, David S. 2004. Episode Structures in Literary Narratives. Journal of Literary Semantics, 33, pp: 111-29.
  5. Stein, Allen F. 2005. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction New York: Peter Lang.
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