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Kate Chopin's story "Desiree's Baby" takes place before the Civil War in Louisiana. The author emphasizes three controversial subjects in her story: racism, prejudice, and marriage. One of her purposes was to expose the inequities of prejudice and female subjugation.
Chopin wrote to broaden the views on a woman's place in the world. In this story, the main character Desiree really belongs to no one. Abandoned as a toddler, she is adopted by loving parents: the Valmondes. However, they know nothing about her heritage or ancestry.
After her marriage to a young aristocrat, Armand Aubigny, Desiree hopes that she has found her own real home. Armand has been told about Desiree's background and did not care because of his love for her. After the birth of her son, Armand is happy. Then, the baby begins to show Negroid features. The child is bi-racial.
'Armand,' she panted once more, clutching his arm, 'look at our child. What does it mean? Tell me.'
He coldly but gently loosened her fingers from about his arm and thrust the hand away from him. 'Tell me what it means!' she cried despairingly.
'It means,' he answered lightly, 'that the child is not white; it means that you are not white.'
At this time in history, no aristocratic family would have accepted a bi-racial daughter-in-law or grandchild. Desiree did not know who she was; therefore, she had to be the one was part black.
Armand tells her to leave and take the baby with her. Desiree walks off toward the swamp and the river. Chopin does not tell the reader what happens to either of them.
The twist in the story comes when Armand is burning everything that belonged to Desiree or the baby. He discovers a letter from his mother to his father which changes everything:
'But above all,' she wrote. '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 tables were turned on Armand. He was the one who had the black ancestry. Everyone loses in the story.
What does the reader learn? Racial injustice is cruel. First, Desiree had no control over who she was. She did not deceive Armand. He knew that she was a foundling and said that he did not care. Obviously, his love was fleeting. In addition, the child was still his. How could he turn his back on his own son!
This is Chopin's lesson: True love is blind to color. Armand broke his marriage vow to Desiree and his parental responsibility because of his prejudice toward her "race." It would be interesting to know how Desiree would have handled the situation when she found out that Armand was the one with the black heritage.
Another aspect of the story that Chopin illustrates is the woman's place in marriage. In the Old South, women were to be loved and cherished. Their contribution to the marriage was to serve the husband. To take care of the home, to serve the meals, to have and be responsible for the children, and to be at her husband's disposal--this was the role of the wife in a marriage. She had no say in financial, political, or social issues. Everything belonged to the man including the wife.
Desiree had no options but to do as she was told. It was Armand's home. He no longer wanted her there, so she had to go. Armand has shown his true identity; he was cruel, biased, insensitive man who did not deserve the beautiful Desiree and their child.
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