What effect does a third-person narrator have on our perception of "Desiree's Baby"?

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bmadnick's profile pic

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A third-person narrator is like an eyewitness to the events of the story, telling the reader what he/she wants us to know. We may only be allowed to know what one character is thinking and feeling, and that is third-person limited. Third-person omniscient is where we get to see what most or all of the characters are thinking and feeling. A third-person narrator is also usually more reliable than a first-person narrator because he/she is not involved in the story itself.

By using a third-person narrator, we don't get to see what all of the characters are thinking or feeling. If we did, we might be able to know what Armand is thinking and feeling. If we could see inside his head, we would know what a scoundrel he is for getting rid of Desiree and their baby. We would also know why Desiree chooses to die with her baby instead of going home to the family that loves her. Because Desiree doesn't tell the story, we don't know what she's thinking. We have to infer certain things about why the characters do what they do.

mwestwood's profile pic

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The employment of a third-person narrator rather than an omniscient narrator limits what the reader knows about the inner thoughts of characters. Therefore, since this is the case, the ending of "Desiree's Baby" is more shocking to the reader; for, from the point of view of the narrator, Desiree has seemed of sanguine temperament: "The girl grew to be beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere..."

The feelings expressed in the narrative seem to be outside Desiree. For instance, after the baby is born and Madame Valmonde visits, she examines the baby in the light of the window, then says slowly, "Yes, the child has grown, has changed." Later, Desiree wakens one day and senses that

...there was something in the air menacing her peace....an air of mystery among the blacks; unexpected visits from far-off neighbors who would hardly account for their coming...an awful change in her husband's manner....

Thus, it is only outside forces that indicate possible conflict; the reader knows not what thoughts Desiree harbors. Thus, she seems but a victim of a surprising and cruel fate when Armaud condemns her as being responsible for the child's race that is not white. Furthermore, her meager words, "Shall I go, Armand," and her fatalistic action in her departure are completely unexpected by the reader, greatly adding to the impact of the ending.


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