Concept of Change Through Nature in the Stories of Kate Chopin

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Change has always been a revolutionary concept in our world, where the transformation of a familiar force into something entirely foreign is a perplexing idea. Kate Chopin evokes this feeling of mysticality through her pieces, “The Story of an Hour” and “The Storm,” by introducing her readers to the concept of change through nature. The female protagonists of these works are embodied by the transformations in weather, where one feels empowered at the sight of a flourishing landscape and another shows dominance when approached by thundering storms. A familiar, supernatural force comes into being as this theme of femininity ties in with the rapid changes of nature. Chopin evokes the character of Mother Nature within her female figures through personification, humanizing the weather by relating its versatility with a dominance that stems from femininity. Through the actions of Mrs. Mallard and Calixta, the audience is able to understand the overall empowerment given to women; they embody a figure greater in power than any human force, swaying the Earth to and fro with powers of growth and prosperity.

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The embodiment of Mother Nature is best displayed by the flourishing of the world around the human race. As flowers bloom petal by petal and large oaks grow from tiny saplings, the feminine figure is surrounded and empowered by spring — the season of renewal and rebirth. In “The Story of an Hour,” Mrs. Mallard is similarly invigorated by the imagery of springtime outside of her window. After she hears the news regarding the death of her husband, she rushes upstairs and instantly looks to the “open square before her house” (Chopin 556) for solace. Instead of looking for words of encouragement from her sister, Josephine, she slinks upstairs to be consoled by the image outside her “open window” (556). Just as Mother Nature is comforted by the sight of blooming flora, Mrs. Mallard holds the same quality, using the outside world to soothe her grief and initial shock of the news. The constant repetition of the word ‘open’ signifies this need for a connection with the wilderness, instead of being restricted inside. Mrs. Mallard finds hope within the limitless nature of the outside world, looking beyond her window to the skies, for an answer to her husband’s sudden death. As she is stuck within her own thoughts, the audience is greeted with the image of the protagonist in a “comfortable, roomy armchair” (556). The sight of the armchair displays a form of relaxation to Mrs. Mallard, but the word choice Chopin uses offers another meaning. Using the term ‘roomy’ implies that Mrs. Mallard is a petite woman compared to the oversized chair, which consumes her in size when she sits down. As the chair overpowers her, forcing her to feel inhabited “by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (556), she becomes clouded in worry. This displays Mrs. Mallard’s connection with the figure of Mother Nature, as her veiled emotions show restriction to the confining features of the piece of furniture; she feels weight as she is trapped inside the walls of her own home, as well as the walls of her broken marriage. Mrs. Mallard hopes to seek natural beauty rather than idly sit within the barriers of her room, just as Mother Nature does as she spreads her pure splendor throughout the world.

Mrs. Mallard begins her period of empowerment by showing mercy and sympathy for her deceased husband, describing the scene as a “storm of grief [that] had spent itself” (556). Chopin’s usage of the word ‘storm’ stands out, as it is a contrasting concept from the usual serenity of Mother Nature. Whereas the supernatural figure is typically shown to be a merciful, maternal character, the topic of natural disasters comes to mind with the mention of storms. Relating back to Mrs. Mallard, the death of her husband triggers a calamity inside of the female protagonist, bringing forth ideas contrasting with common normalities of femininity. Instead of remaining in despair about the death, she is struck by sudden realizations of freedom and escape. The vengeful form of Mother Nature resonates inside Mrs. Mallard, halting her stage of grief and instead forcing her to move onto a period of independence and empowerment. As Mrs. Mallard looks outside her window, embracing the open nature, she gradually realizes the detailings of the no-longer veiled world. She notices the “tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life [and] the delicious breath of rain in the air” (556), finding hints of life within the nature surrounding her. Just as Mother Nature allows Mrs. Mallard to discover a newfound appreciation for the vitality of the outside world, she also forces the character to seek new life inside her own self. Through the birth and growth of the nature outside, she gives birth to her own freedom from the death of her husband. The figure of Mother Nature is essentially capable of implanting the beauty of spring within her, making the presence of a man entirely trivial. When the main character notices “patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window” (556), the world of freedom opens up for her to venture out into. Whereas her husband symbolized the white piles of clouds, guarding her innocence and purity inside the safe haven of her home, Chopin’s choice of the color blue emphasizes open spaces, such as the sky and the sea. The figure of Mother Nature comes truly alive within Mrs. Mallard, where she is finally able to view the sights from her open window and discover a life of independence and empowerment without any man stopping her.

Unlike the situation of empowerment that occurs with Mrs. Mallard, “The Storm” begins with a feeling of submission from the male character of Bobinôt. The piece begins with a description of the setting, where “the leaves were so still that even Bibi thought it was going to rain… certain sombre clouds were rolling with sinister intention from the west, accompanied by a sullen, threatening roar” (557). Chopin’s mention of the ‘west’ proves to be essential, for the sun sets in the west; a sense of darkness and mystique is detected with the motion of the world’s natural light source gradually dimming. While the scattered patches of clouds present a foreshadowing of Mrs. Mallard’s newfound freedom in “The Story of an Hour,” the ominous, murky scenery in “The Storm” depicts a falling of masculinity for Calixta’s husband. Bobinôt initially shows hints of dominance by reassuring his son about Calixta’s safety, yet he veils his worry as he “[goes] across the counter [to purchase] a can of shrimps, of which Calixta was very fond… then [returning] to his perch on the keg and [sitting] stolidly holding the can of shrimps while the storm burst” (558). He carries traits of femininity as he purchases the item with his wife in mind, showing loyalty and dependence as he sits with his son through a raging calamity. Chopin’s choice of using the word ‘stolidly’ emphasizes Bobinôt’s attempt to hide the worry for his wife’s safety behind an expressionless face, protecting the ideas of harm from his child and giving him an aura of maternity. The storm portrayed in the short story forces the female role to be handed off to Bobinôt instead of Calixta, who remains “at home, [feeling] no uneasiness for their safety” (558). As Mother Nature approaches the male within the open area of the store, he becomes more submissive and becomes clouded in worry, whereas the hidden presence of the downpour allows Calixta to stay “occupied… not [noticing] the approaching storm” (558). Mother Nature forces Bobinôt to become a man who hides behind his exterior, taking away from the typical characteristics of being a masculine figure; instead, these qualities are given to Calixta, where she is empowered by the sight of stormy weather.

Just as the inner storm of independence rises in Mrs. Mallard, the literal storm mentioned in Calixta’s household allows her to achieve a dominance within her marital relationship. Whereas Mrs. Mallard is outwardly triggered by the serene form of Mother Nature outside her open window, Calixta appears to find strength by seeing the terror-filled sights of the harsh storm. Although she does not notice the harshness of the gusts against her home at first, she finds it “[beginning] to grow dark, and suddenly realizing the situation she got up hurriedly and went about closing windows and doors” (558). The fierce presence of Mother Nature comes in unexpectedly into Calixta’s life, forcing her to shut every open point of access. Chopin’s description of the protagonist’s rushed attitude depicts her overall wariness and hesitance of dropping her maternal characteristics. Especially since Bobinôt and Bibi are not present, Calixta heightens her senses by blocking out Mother Nature and her aura of independence by “[rolling] up a piece of bagging… [and thrusting] it beneath the crack” (558) with the help of Alcée. When Chopin calls attention to rooms of the household, a foreshadowing is shown through the “door [standing] open… the room with its white, monumental bed, its closed shutters, [looking] dim and mysterious” (558). The color white is a shade of innocence and purity, yet the shadows and darkness clouding over the bed show that Mother Nature’s brutality has already entered Calixta’s home; her efforts to blockade the figure have proven unsuccessful. The moment she shares with Alcée depicts the moment she falls under Mother Nature’s temptations and lets go of the submission over her marriage. The affair between the two shows a moment of empowerment for Calixta, where she lets go of her marital affairs and shares an intimate moment with a man of her choosing. Although the act can be identified as sinful, the identity of Mother Nature’s power is inevitable within Calixta, “her firm, elastic flesh… like a creamy lily that the sun invites to contribute its breath and perfume to the undying life of the world” (559-560). Even through the raging storm, Calixta is replenished by the beauty of nature through the supernatural figure, just as Mrs. Mallard is while looking out her window.

Although the presence of females was undermined in years past, Chopin is able to depict the empowerment of her female characters through the figure of Mother Nature. Mrs. Mallard is evolved from a grieving woman into one filled with thoughts of freedom, while Calixta begins her transformation from a submissive woman under an oath of marriage to one that shows dominance as she partakes in an affair with a different man. Chopin’s short stories do not necessarily depict the moral good of her female characters, however, as both scenarios involve a lack of loyalty and trust within each marriage; Mrs. Mallard embraces the joy of her newfound independence through the death of her husband, while Calixta forgets about her duties as a maternal figure and partakes in an affair. From this note, can it be said that Mother Nature in Chopin’s pieces does not have the qualities of greater good in mind when influencing these characters? The supernatural figure appears to initially mock men, in order to place women on a pedestal, which possibly depicts Chopin’s personal opinions on male superiority. The stories written by this feminism-seeking author could denote qualities of ridicule and scorn, showing readers that not only were females excelling in writing, but they could compose literature filled to the brim with notes of male-taunting parody.

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