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What does the letter which Armand's mother wrote to his father symbolise in "Desiree's...

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sercan192 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 15, 2011 at 5:07 PM via web

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What does the letter which Armand's mother wrote to his father symbolise in "Desiree's Baby"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 16, 2011 at 2:59 AM (Answer #1)

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The letter at the end of this excellent story is of course a wonderful yet devastating example of situational irony, as we realise that the dark-skinned gene came not from Desiree, as both we and Armand had assumed, but from himself, and thus he realises that it was his false accusation and terrible behaviour against his wife that led to her death and the death of his child. Note what the letter contains:

"But, above, all," she wrote, "night and day, 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."

The contents of the letter show what a shame it was considered to be at the time of the story to have any "black blood" in your system. Armand's mother thanks God that her son can remain ignorant of this fact because of the way it would have affected his standing in society, yet ironically his mother's success in this respect gives rise to Armand's greatest tragedy, as he loses his loving wife and child. As such, we could argue that the letter symbolises mistaken good intentions: Armand's mother saw it as a good thing that Armand remained ignorant of his genetic background, but the tragedy of the story clearly shows that she was wrong. Equally, we could also argue that the letter shows the danger of jumping to conclusions: the orphaned Desiree with no known relations seems to be the easy person to blame for the dark skin of her child, whereas in fact it was Armand who was responsible. Appearances may not always be what they seem.

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