The Trouble Left Unknown, Kate Chopin’s “The Storm”

Kate Chopin describes her writing method with ease: she writes in the morning, midday, and evening (but as she gets older she holds off on evening writing); she sits by a window where she can see some trees and the blue sky; she writes with a pen and ink from a grocery store; but the greater question is: why does she write?

She doesn’t give us an answer. She gives us an answer that is more satisfactory than an answer: “To seek the source, the impulse of a story is like tearing a flower to pieces for wantonness.” She continues to say that a story, if treated like a painting, won’t get you very far: “a trick, a mannerism, a physical treat or mental characteristic go a very short way towards portraying the complete individual in real life.” In “The Storm” it is impossible.

“The Storm” is separated in five sections, here is a brief summary of each:
1) Baby and Husband are trapped in a storm, unconcerned and safe.
2) Calixta has an affair with an old lover.
3) Husband and baby come home dirty, but with presents; they have a great dinner.
4) Lover writes his wife a letter.
5) Wife is relieved and touched by the letter

There is no trick or mannerism here that can bring it to life; in fact, the storm the driving force of all action. Everything happens because of and thanks to this storm. It illustrates the complexity of truth and happiness. It should unsettle the reader at first to see that each character is happy with each of the lies they are living with. It seems to beg us to evaluate the innocence of each character (who is truly innocent in this story?) from the tradition of “heroic” stories. Perhaps Chopin is asking us to reconsider what is truly right and what is true happiness. Perhaps there is no hero in this story. We don’t know enough except that everyone is blissful in their cloudy, watery, and thunderous ignorance.

 

 

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