Gender in The Storm
Kate Chopin’s short story, The Storm, is a story about adultery, focused on a housewife by the name of Calixta, who is expected to undertake household chores as the principal goal of her everyday life. The woman had had a flirtation with Alcee years before the story took place. Chopin informs the reader about the current situation between Calixta and Alcee: “She had not seen him very often since her marriage, and never alone.” This is because the woman was not expected to see a man who was not her husband very often, and alone. The woman has suppressed emotions and passions for Alcee, who too is married to another. The fact that she has suppressed emotions is revealed by her unspoken permission given to Alcee to continue having a sexual encounter with her. She does not resist the sexual encounter. However, being a man, Alcee is the one who begins to touch the woman in order to begin the sexual encounter. The woman responds with “generous abundance of her passion.” At the same time, Calixta’s husband is at the general store where he probably went to fetch viands for the household and is stopped by the storm. Thus, the story uses gender to inform the reader of the gender roles during the late nineteenth century.
It is perfectly normal for Calixta, a housewife, to be engrossed in housework. She is sewing a cotton sheet and involved in other household tasks when the storm arrives. She is airing out her husband, Bobinot’s Sunday clothing on the porch. Her husband is visiting the general store with their son, Bibi, because he is expected to purchase goods for the household, being the man of the family and the breadwinner who must keep account of the household purchases and buy only that which his family truly needs. If Calixta would have gone instead to the general store, perhaps she would have spent indiscriminately and unwisely as women of today are often said to do.
Men and women have different roles to play in The Storm. When Alcee arrives at Calixta’s doorstep to seek shelter from the storm, it appears as though the woman had been sleeping through her housework. Chopin writes: “His voice and her own startled her as if from a trance….” What is more, the woman has been so focused on her housework that she begins talking excitedly with Alcee about her housework at first. She also talks about preparing her house for the storm. It is her responsibility, after all, to stay in charge of the entire household while the man of her house is away. Moreover, the woman begins to gather up the cotton sheet she had been sewing before the arrival of Alcee.
With no housework left between the man and the woman, they are prepared to play their gender roles in a sexual encounter. When Alcee grabs the woman close to himself, Chopin describes Calixta’s first reaction thus: “Bonte! She cried, releasing herself from his arms encircling arms and retreating to the window… If I only knew were Bibi was!” After remembering for a brief moment her marital role that demands her to keep faithful to her husband in her sex life, through which she gave birth to Bibi, Calixta easily submits to Alcee’s sexual move. As a man, Alcee was required to make the first sexual move. As a woman, Calixta had to submit because she desired the man. Furthermore, as a woman she was required by the perception of her gender to try modesty to at first resist a sexual move.
Once she has stopped resisting a sexual encounter with Alcee, Calixta gives in to the experience by thoroughly enjoying her sexual role just as Alcee takes great pleasure in his. After the sexual encounter and the storm, Alcee leaves Calixta’s house, and both appear happy. They are both smiling through their respective gender roles, which apparently have been played rather well. So, when Calixta’s husband returns home, she pretends as though nothing has happened between herself and Alcee. Things get back to normal. Calixta never thinks about relating the experience to her husband. As a woman, she cannot dream of discussing the experience with her husband. Alcee, on the other hand, returns to his own house to write a letter to his wife stating that he is enjoying himself very much, and she too must enjoy her vacation. As a husband, Alcee is required to keep in touch with his wife, informing her about his state so as to touch base. Like Calixta, Alcee also does not mention to his wife that he had had a sexual encounter with another woman. Rather, both the man and the woman are required to stay faithful in their sex lives to their spouses.
Both Calixta and Alcee are expected to continue playing their gender roles in their marriages as well as in society after their adulterous encounter. Neither is expected to share with society any information about the adulterous encounter, because society does not tolerate the breaking of marital norms. Moreover, Calixta is expected to continue being engrossed in her household chores, and sleeping through them. Bobinot and Alcee, on the other hand, are expected to continuing fending for their families, and going to general stores to purchase household goods. When Bibi grows up, he too is expected to behave like Bobinot and Alcee – the breadwinners of their families. Thus, gender roles would not depart from society during the time of The Storm.