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Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate April 2001

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During the 1880's, the peak of the Victorian age, Katherine Chopin's scandalous writings dealing with love, sex, and marriage challenged the existing supremacy of man. In "The Storm" and "The Story of an Hour", Chopin writes of infidelity and the desire for womanly freedom to encourage women to speak out against their husbands, think for themselves, and live independently. "The Storm," a story filled with sexual energy and passion, contrasts the reserved expression of feminine sexuality that existed during Chopin's time. As well, in "The Story of an Hour," Chopin describes Mrs. Mallard's death to demonstrate the breakdown of life because freedom and life does not co-exist. Together, the two stories describe the lack of individuality women possess and suppression women face in Chopin's time.

Seeing how women financially depend on men in the 1880s, they are obligated to do certain domestic tasks to ensure they have protection, food, and shelter.

These obligations suppress women mentally and emotionally throughout life. Higher education and the public sphere, where men work outside of the home, is where many women of the nineteenth century desire to be. However, they cannot leave the strains of the home and church because they are not as educated as men (Kern 32). Instead, women are shaped from birth with direction on how they should speak, act, dress, and marry. Every facet of women's lives have been "controlled by some kind of male authority, first with fathers at birth and then the husband possess control" (Moriarty).

In "The Storm," Katherine Chopin presents feminine sexuality through the imagery of the storm. The storm, a manifestation of mother-nature, expresses feminine qualities. The power of the growing storm increases the drive for women and Calixta to attain her sexual desires from whenever she was younger with Alcee. Chopin refers to Alcee and Calixta's previous attraction by mentioning how "he had kissed her and kissed and kissed her" (Chopin 771). Alcee and Calixta could not do anything about their desires for each other before because Calixta was too young and a virgin. Society of the 1880s does not accept the yearning the two felt for each other or female desire for premarital sex. However, the increasing power of the storm outside makes Calixta cast aside the constraints of society's views as she commits adultery when "she clasped his head [with one hand], her lips lightly touching his forehead; [and] the other hand stroked with a soothing rhythm his muscular shoulders" (Chopin 771).

Calixta's sexuality restricts her marriage and society's views of women when Chopin describes the housework and Calixta's husband's Sunday clothes, which alludes to society in the form of the church. In the 1880s, the church keeps Calixta pure and innocent, but the storm outside continues to increase, reflecting the sexual tension between Calixta and Alcee (Moriarty). As Calixta and Alcee move through the rooms of the house, the audience sees the lack of passion in Calixta's marriage because of the separate beds Calixta and Bobinot have. Calixta is a "revelation in that dim, mysterious chamber, as white as the couch she lay upon," which contrasts one another, the white representing purity and innocence while the dark "mysterious chamber" represents sin (Chopin 771). The society in the 1880s will take a dim view of Calixta's passion for Alcee because adultery is usually unheard of during those times.

Just as Calixta, in "The Storm," wants to be free to love and desire whomever she pleases, Mrs. Mallard, in "The Story of an Hour," wants to be free from her husband and responsibilities of a wife. There are three stages that Mrs. Mallard goes through to try to have a free life after she learns about her husband's death, Mr. Mallard. In the nineteenth century, women were usually expected to feel helpless without their husbands because they would be thrown into poverty and despair because the loss of their husbands' financial support (Moriarty). First, Mrs. Mallard cries about the loss of her husband, but she does not grieve for Mr. Mallard for very long.

In the second stage, Mrs. Mallard locks herself in her room to reflect upon her own thoughts. However, Chopin describes images of life and rebirth, such as "patches of blue sky," "new spring life," and "sparrows twittering," instead of portraying images of death. These images of life and rebirth come from the joy of the feeling of freedom that she feels for the first time in her life. Mrs. Mallard loses tremendous freedom when she gets married, but she regains that freedom when she becomes a widow which opens a new world to her because "there [will] be no one to live for her during those coming years: she [will] live for herself" (Chopin 774). Rather than being single, many women will get married in the 1880s for the sole purpose of gaining more rights and financial support; however, they feel more free when they become a widow because their husbands can no longer control them (Moriarty).

When Mrs. Mallard exits her room, there is a "feverish triumph in her eyes, and she [carries] herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory" (Chopin 775). She has now entered the public sphere, outside of the house, where she can be free to do whatever she wants. However, whenever Mrs. Mallard sees her husband alive, the joy she feels of being a widow kills her because she just erased a lifetime of tolerance and acceptance of a woman's role. Mrs. Mallard thinks that she will have a free life and has everything planned out, until her husband walks through the front door and takes away all of her freedom and thoughts that she had floating in her head since she heard of her husband's death.

In the 1880s, Chopin witnesses the suppression of women, but she refuses to be silent and responds by writing about love, sex, and marriage. Chopin challenges the views and values that society has in the 1880s by encouraging women to speak out, think for themselves, and to live independently in the stories, "The Storm" and "The Story of an Hour." Together, these stories explain how freedom and life should co-exist for everyone, even women, or they should not exist at all.