“The Storm” is Kate Chopin’s short story about a moment of passionate sex. It is the sequel to “At the ’Cadian Ball,” written six years earlier. It was not published in Chopin’s lifetime but is today one of her most popular works.
Read the story online
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
What scholars say
Articles and book chapters about the story
Articles about “A Shameful Affair”
Books that discuss “The Storm”
- Calixta: she appears also in Chopin’s “At the ‘Cadian Ball”
- Bobinôt: husband of Calixta and father of Bibi. Bobinôt too appears in “At the ‘Cadian Ball”
- Bibi: four-year-old son of Calixta and Bobinôt
- Alcée Laballière: he and his brothers Didier and Alphonse appear in several Chopin stories. Like Calixta and Bobinôt, Alcée appears in “At the ‘Cadian Ball”
The story is set in the late nineteenth century at Friedheimer’s store in Louisiana, and at the nearby house of Calixta and Bobinôt.
Unlike most of Kate Chopin’s short stories and both her novels, this story was not published until the 1960s, many years after it was written. Apparently Chopin did not submit it to magazines because she understood that no editor at the time would publish a work as sexually explicit as this one. Per Seyersted, a Chopin biographer, writes that “sex in this story is a force as strong, inevitable, and natural as the Louisiana storm which ignites it.” The conclusion of the story, Seyersted adds, is ambiguous, because Chopin “covers only one day and one storm and does not exclude the possibility of later misery. The emphasis is on the momentary joy of the amoral cosmic force.”
In this story, Seyersted says, Kate Chopin “was not interested in the immoral in itself, but in life as it comes, in what she saw as natural–or certainly inevitable–expressions of universal Eros, inside or outside of marriage. She focuses here on sexuality as such, and to her, it is neither frantic nor base, but as ‘healthy’ and beautiful as life itself.”
Other readers, scholars, and critics have found a host of themes, ideas, and subjects to write about in this story. There are further details in some of the questions and answers below. You can check our lists of books, articles, and dissertations about Chopin at other places on this site. And you can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on our Themes page.
The story was composed on July 19, 1898. It was first published in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin in 1969.
You can find complete composition dates and publication dates for Chopin’s works on pages 1003 to 1032 of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969, 2006).
Q: The story’s title says it is “A Sequel to ‘The ‘Cadian Ball.’ ” Does “The Storm” stand by itself or does it need to be read with the earlier story?
A: It stands by itself, but some scholars have argued that Chopin obviously intended for “The Storm” to be read with “At the ‘Cadian Ball” and that resonance is lost when they are separated (see one of the questions below). The earlier story describes how Calixta came to marry Bobinôt and how Alcée came to marry his wife. Some anthologies print “The Storm” alone. Many print the two stories together.
Q: Isn’t the phrasing of “The Storm” sexually explicit for something written in the 1890s?
A: Yes, the phrasing is way beyond what any respectable American magazine, even a comparatively advanced magazine like Vogue (in which Kate Chopin published nineteen stories), would have printed at the time. From everything we can tell, Chopin did not try to send “The Storm” out to editors. The story was not published until 1969, sixty-five years after Chopin’s death.
Q: So readers at the time were uptight about explicit sex in short stories?
A: By the standards of most twenty-first-century American or European magazine readers, yes. But unlike today’s countless magazines often selling to small, closely-focused segments of the population, American national magazines in the late nineteenth century usually appealed to broader, more heterogeneous audiences. Many, if not most, magazines of the time were viewed by children as well as adults, so editors needed to keep in mind the tastes and preferences of the people who bought their publications and, perhaps, shared them with their families.
Q: What kind of relationship exists between Calixta and Alcée? What can you infer from their past?
A: Much depends on whether you think of the two as characters who exist only in “The Storm” or if you see them as characters who exist also in “At The ‘Cadian Ball.” Assuming you are looking at both stories: as we explain on the page for the earlier story, Alcée and his wife Clarisse are Creoles, descendants of French settlers in Louisiana. Calixta and her husband Bobinôt are Acadians, descendants of French-American exiles from Acadia, Nova Scotia, who were driven from their homes by the British in 1755. Most of the Creoles in Kate Chopin’s stories are comparatively wealthy, usually landowners or merchants. Most of the Acadians (or ‘Cajuns) in the stories are much poorer, living off the land, farming or fishing or working for the Creoles.
So on the basis of the two stories together, you could describe Calixta as coming from a different social class than Alcée, and you could say that it’s in good part because of that difference in class that Calixta and Alcée are married to other people. And you could add that, unlike anyone else in either story, Calixta comes in part also from a Spanish-speaking cultural background (her mother is Cuban) and so, as Kate Chopin presents her, she has different ways of behaving, more sensual ways of expressing her sexuality–which is partly why she is so attractive for both Alcée and Bobinôt. As everyone in the earlier story understands, she’s not like the other Acadian girls.
In brief, Calixta is an Acadian influenced by Cuban culture who had been attracted to Alcée–and he to her–long before either of them was married (they had passionate moments together one summer in Assumption Parish, moments that apparently scandalized some people). Calixta married Bobinôt, the earlier story suggests, because Alcée was not available as a marriage partner–at least partly because his Creole family, and certainly Clarisse, think of him as coming from a comparatively higher social class.
Q: I’ve read an article about “The Storm” that suggests Calixta has some African-American blood. Is that right?
A: No. Her mother is Cuban. Everyone in the community thinks of her as Acadian with some Spanish blood. As the prequel to this story phrases it, “Any one who is white may go to a ‘Cadian ball, but he must pay for his lemonade, his coffee and chicken gumbo. And he must behave himself like a ‘Cadian.”
Q: Would you describe what looks to me like an odd sort of connection between Chopin’s short story “A Shameful Affair” and her stories “At The ‘Cadian Ball” and “The Storm”?
A: Perhaps it’s not so odd a connection. “A Shameful Affair” is an earlier Chopin story, is set in Missouri rather than in Louisiana, and does not involve Creole or Acadian society. But in some ways it’s similar to Chopin’s two more famous works in its focus on a man and woman attracted to each other but restrained by the sexual norms of the times.
Mildred and Fred are wealthy, educated people who, because of late nineteenth-century norms, keep their sexual feelings towards others, especially others of their own class, under very tight control. It was, however, common for an upper-class man to have a “fling,” as Chopin calls it in “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” with a woman of a lower social class. An upper-class woman would not likely have a fling with a lower-class man.
But Chopin in this story reverses those male/female roles. Until Mildred gets the letter from her friend (after she and Fred kiss) she does not realize that Fred is from her own class. But he’s a handsome, sexually powerful guy, and it’s nice–and, she thinks, safe–for her to flirt a little with him.
Fred understands who Mildred is (it’s not clear if he realizes that she does not know who he is), but he’s on the farm precisely to get away from the norms of his class. He likes being a working-class guy at times, and he avoids contact with Mildred. But when she seeks him out him at the river, he passionately kisses her. Then, remembering himself, he flees, like Alcée Laballière flees from Calixta in Assumption.
Until 1969, when the Norwegian scholar Per Seyersted first published the story, critics had not heard of its existence (Daniel Rankin did not discuss it in his 1932 Chopin biography). Seyersted praises the story for its “daring,” its “happy” and “healthy” treatment of sex. In the story, he says, sex “is a force as strong, inevitable, and natural as the Louisiana storm which ignites it.” The work has, he adds, the “unreserved directness and supreme authenticity of truth.”
Later critics follow Seyersted’s lead, and, although some focus on themes like isolation, gender, ethnicity, or autonomy, and a few see the story as immoral and the two lovers as sinners, others consider it one of America’s great short stories.
Bernard Koloski writes that Calixta and Alcée reach out impulsively “for what they want, what they need, what for them is life itself, their ‘birthright’–not selfishly, not unaware of the risks and costs, not with the intention of hurting anybody, but with a lust for life itself, with an ecstatic acceptance of what the moment is offering them, with trust and peace and hope.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
The Awakening and Selected Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Penguin, 1984.
Some of the articles listed here may be available on line through university or public libraries.
Hebert-Leiter, Maria. “The Awakening Awakened.” In Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke, 57–78. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2009.
Kirby, Lisa A. “‘So the Storm Passed…’: Interrogating Race, Class, and Gender in Chopin’s ‘At the ‘Cadian Ball’ and ‘The Storm’.” Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. 91-104. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Cho, Ailee. “[Chopin and the Desire of Flight].” Nineteenth Century Literature in English 7 (2003): 119-134.
Stein, Allen. “The Kaleidoscope of Truth: A New Look at Chopin’s ‘The Storm.’ “ American Literary Realism 36 (2003): 51-64.
Menke, Pamela Glenn. ” ‘I Almost Live Here’: Gender and Ethnicity in The Awakening and ‘The Storm.’ ” Southern Studies 8 (1997): 73-81.
Berkove, Lawrence I. ” ‘Acting Like Fools’: The Ill-Fated Romances of ‘At the ‘Cadian Ball’ and ‘The Storm.’ ” Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. 184-196. New York: Prentice Hall, 1996.
Johnson, Rose M. “A Rational Pedagogy for Kate Chopin’s Passional Fiction: Using Burke’s Scene-Act Ratio to Teach ‘Story’ and ‘Storm’.” Conference of College Teachers of English Studies 60 (1996): 122-128.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction New York: Twayne, 1996.
Baker, Christopher. “Chopin’s ‘The Storm.’ ” Explicator 52 (1994): 225-26.
Koloski, Bernard. “The Anthologized Chopin: Kate Chopin’s Short Stories in Yesterday’s and Today’s Anthologies.” Louisiana Literature 11 (1994): 18-30.
Sempreora, Margot. “Kate Chopin as Translator: A Paradoxical Liberation.” Louisiana Literature 11 (1994): 83-96.
Gaude, Pamela. “Kate Chopin’s ‘the Storm’: A Study of Maupassant’s Influence.” Kate Chopin Newsletter 1.2 (1975): 1–6.
Seyersted, Per. “Introduction.” ‘The Storm’ and Other Stories by Kate Chopin: With ‘The Awakening New York: Feminist Press, 1974.
Articles about “A Shameful Affair”
Dyer, Joyce. “Symbolic Setting in Kate Chopin’s ‘A Shameful Affair’.” Southern Studies 20 (1981): 447-452.
Koloski, Bernard, ed. Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
Beer, Janet. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Ostman, Heather. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.
Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
Shaker, Bonnie James. Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s Youth’s Companion Stories Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2003.
Walker, Nancy A. Kate Chopin: A Literary Life Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2001.
Koloski, Bernard. “Introduction” Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie by Kate Chopin New York: Penguin, 1999.
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.
Petry, Alice Hall (ed.), Critical Essays on Kate Chopin New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
Elfenbein, Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1994.
Boren, Lynda S. and Sara deSaussure Davis (eds.), Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992.
Perspectives on KateChopin: Proceedings from the Kate Chopin International Conference, April 6, 7, 8, 1989 Natchitoches, LA: Northwestern State UP, 1992.
Toth, Emily. “Introduction” A Vocation and a Voice New York: Penguin, 1991.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton New York: Greenwood, 1990.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990.
Elfenbein , Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1989.
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.
Bonner, Thomas Jr., The Kate Chopin Companion New York: Greenwood, 1988.
Bloom, Harold (ed.), Kate Chopin New York: Chelsea, 1987.
Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin New York: Ungar, 1986.
Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.