Kate Chopin's Desiree's Baby


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Desiree's Baby is a short story written by Kate Chopin. It is set in
19th century Louisiana. The story starts with Madame Valmonde going to
visit Desiree and her baby. She thinks back on her memories of Desiree
as a baby:

"It made her laugh to think of Desiree with a baby.
Why it seemed but yesterday that Desiree was little
more than a baby herself."

This quote tells us two things. The first is that Madame Valmonde must
have known Desiree as a child and is either a close family friend of
even a member of the family herself. The second thing is that Desiree
is young. The word "baby" could either mean childlike or physically
young. Desiree seemed to be a normal child and had had a normal
childhood. The third paragraph tells us more about Desiree's
background:

"She had been purposely left by a band of passing
Texans."

This makes us think that she he had been abandoned at a very young age
outside Madame Valmonde´s home. We can also tell from paragraph five
that "She was nameless."

No one knew what her name was or what her family background was like.
It was all a rumour.

Eighteen years after this, Armand Aubigny fell in love with Desiree.
From the fifth paragraph of the first page we can tell that Armand was
very proud of his family name.

"What did it matter about a name when he could give
her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?"

This is a very old fashioned point of view. To Armand, his name was
everything. There is a very strong social contrast between the
nameless Desiree and Armand.

Signs of racism become apparent in the book on page 67:

"Young Aubigny´s rule was a strict one, too, and under
it his Negroes had forgotten how to be happy."

Armand must have treated them very harshly and made them unhappy. His
home is described as being sad looking and quite dreary.

The second paragraph of page 67 gives the reader a description of the
type of home Armand owns. There are muslins, a couch decorated with
laces, there are also slaves. Madame Valmonde´s first reaction to the
baby was one of shock and astonishment:

"This is not the baby!"

Theoretically this isn't very significant because babies tend to grow
very quickly and their outward appearance can change very fast. The
eighth paragraph on this page gives us a hint at why Madame Valmondé
was so startled when she first saw the baby.

"Madame Valmonde had never removed her eyes from the
child. She lifted it and walked with it over to the window

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that was lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then
looked as searchingly at Zandrine, whose face was turned
to gaze across the fields."

This is a very important point. Madame Valmondé has noticed something
different about the baby. The fact that she didn't take her eyes off
the baby verifies this. She then takes the baby over to the window
"that was lightest". This could mean either that the room was a bit
gloomy, like the rest of Armand's home, or there was something about
the boy that just didn't look "right". When Madame Valmonde looks over
at the black slave, this gives us the biggest clue to what is
different about the baby. Madame Valmonde must have seen a resemblance
in the baby and Zandrine. The author deliberately doesn't tell us that
the baby is black. An air of mystery is created. Desiree clearly
doesn't notice any thing and thinks that her mother's reaction is due
to the child's growth. She hasn't noticed anything odd about the
child. When you spend a lot of time with someone and you see them
frequently, you don't notice little differences in their appearance.
But Madame Valmondé hadn't seen Desiree and her baby for four weeks.
The next little section shows us what Armand's reaction to the birth
of his child were.

"he hasn't punished one of them - not one of them - since baby is born"

The birth of a child clearly has softened Armand and made him happier.
Desiree also became happier because she loved her husband desperately
and was happy when he was happy. But on page 68 line five a physical
description of Armand is given.

"But Armand's dark, handsome face had not been
disfigured by frowns since the day he fell in love
with her."

The word "dark" in this quote could mean either that he was always
dismal or that his skin was dark. This becomes more apparent as we
read on in the book. The second paragraph on this page suggests that
something is wrong. The behaviour of blacks on the estate changes,
there are unexpected visits from neighbours, Armand's manner changes,
he doesn't look at his wife and he is frequently away from home. He
starts to avoid his wife and child. In the third paragraph the truth
is revealed. Desiree is sitting in her room one afternoon with her
child. There is a quadroon child fanning the baby.

"She looked from her child to the boy who stood beside
him, and back again, over and over. 'Ah!´ It was a cry
that she could not help; which she was not conscious
of having uttered."

Desiree realises the similarity between her baby and the mixed race
slave. She is completely confused. She then asks Armand:

"look at our child. What does it mean? Tell me."

He then immediately blames her for being black.

"It means that the child is not white; it means that
you are not white."

The reason Desiree is blamed is because of her obscure origin. When
Armand refers to the child as "the child" this shows that he does not
associate himself with the baby and feels emotionally unattached, we
assume this is because the baby is black, this shows his deep racism
against black people.

Desiree and Armand then compare their skin colours.

"Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,"
he then says
"As white as La Blanche's,"

this is very cruel. From what Desiree says about her hand being whiter
than Armand's we begin to suspect that maybe it isn't Desiree who is
black and it is Armand. It is very ironic. Armand is letting his pride
get in the way of his marriage. He refuses to believe that there is
black blood in his family. It cant have come from him because he is
white isn't he?

Desiree then writes a letter to her mother and the reply tells her to
go back to Valmonde with her baby. Armand wants Desiree to go because
of the unconscious injury she has caused him.

"Moreover he no longer loved her, because of the
unconscious injury she had brought upon his home
and name."

It was a great insult to think that he had black blood. As Desiree
leaves, Armand ignores her. She is greatly saddened by this. Towards
the bottom of page 69 Desiree walks away

"under the live-oak branches"

the significance of this is that even though everyone in the household
seems to be "dead" life around them is still going on. The trees are a
sign of this.

"She did not take the broad, beaten road which
led to the far-off plantation of Valmonde. She
walked across a deserted field,"

As Desiree disappears off into the country with the baby she feels
just as ashamed as Armand. She doesn't even want to walk down a public
road.

The top of page 70 indirectly suggests that Desiree goes and commits
suicide.

"She disappeared among the reeds and willows that
grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish
bayou; and she did not come back again."

This is a very sad ending. The last four paragraphs are about Armand.
A few weeks after Desiree leaves with the baby Armand burns all of
their possessions. He tries to get rid of the memory of her and his
son. He burns the baby's cradle with all the extravagant furnishings
and priceless clothes. He then burns Desiree´s expensive wedding dress
and all of her clothes. The last thing to go was a bundle of letters
that Desiree had written to Armand. The last paragraph reveals the
truth. In the draw where Armand had kept his letters, there was the
remains of a letter from his mother to his father.

"I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives
that our dear Armand will never know that his mother,
who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with
the brand of slavery."

So it is in fact Armand who is black. To some extent I feel some
sympathy for him even though it's because of his own actions he loses
his wife, his baby and then has to deal with his hatred of himself
racially.

Desiree seems to have an emotional roller coaster in the story she
goes from having "a glow that was happiness itself" to being
"miserable enough to die". Which shows another contrast in the story.
The difference between Desiree that is soft and non-violent and just
bottles things up inside, and Armand who will act upon what he feels
regardless of what anyone thinks.

Desiree then seems to sink into madness, she is described as
"hysterical" and when she goes to kill herself she obviously hasn't
prepared, for she isn't not dressed for it (well who is dressed for
killing themselves?) or thought about killing herself. She had reached
the conviction that she must kill without much thought.

Armand rejects the baby because he feels hurt or betrayed by the it,
and the baby, through no fault of its own, hurt him and humiliated
him. He also put his faith into Desiree, this may sound like it is
unemotional but its not, by marrying lower down the relative hierarchy
and then, in his mind, she brought "unclean" blood into the family. I
think the real fault lies with Armand's parents for not telling him
about his racial background. They probably only did this so he could
live a good life without discrimination, but in the long run it did
him more harm than good. If he had known about it before this whole
incident would not have happened. His ethics would be completely
different but he wouldn't be living in such splendour. I think he
would be happier if he would have known from a younger age what his
background was. After all life is quality not quantity.


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