Study Guide

Desiree's Baby

by Kate Chopin

Desiree's Baby Summary

Overview

Desiree

In "Desiree's Baby" Chopin explores Southern racism and the widespread abhorrence of miscegenation (the mixture of races, specifically the cohabitation or marriage between a white person and a member of another race). The story focuses on the life of a young woman named Desiree who was adopted into a wealthy Louisiana family and who grows up and marries a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner. When Desiree and her husband Armand have a child who appears to have black blood, Armand accuses Desiree of having mixed ancestry. As an adopted female, she has no power to argue with him. Then the plot takes an unexpected twist, and the tragedy that results leads to a brutal understanding of the personal degradations that arise from a social system based on white supremacy and the subjugation of women and people of color.

The truth Chopin reveals at the end of her story makes Armand's life and his condemnation of Desiree tragically ironic. "Desiree's Baby" dramatizes Armand's anger and racism and the plight of Desiree, who has no identity apart from her husband. Armand values his prestigious name more than his wife, and he considers her delivery of a black child the ultimate disgrace. The accusation of mixed ancestry disrupts the marriage and reevaluates Desiree's worth. Thus, the story's focus allows Chopin to portray the legacy of the slavery system, the force of sexual passion, and the confused sense of honor that ruled these characters' lives.

Desiree's Baby Summary

Désirée's Background
''Désirée's Baby'' opens with a brief history of the foundling, Désirée, who was adopted by the Valmonde family after they found her by the side of the road. The Valmondes were childless, and they took in the toddler and raised her as their own child. When Désirée becomes a young woman, her beauty attracts the attention of Armand Aubigny, a neighboring plantation owner and bearer of one of the finest names in Louisiana. Although Désirée's father reminds Armand that Désirée's heritage is unknown, Armand says that doesn't matter, that he will give her a new name.

Birth Brings Happiness
After their marriage, Désirée gives birth to a son. One day Madame Valmonde comes to visit. When she first sees the child she is surprised and exclaims, ‘‘This is not the baby!" Desiree laughs, believing her mother is talking about how much the child has grown. She boasts of her child. When Madame Valmonde asks what Armand thinks of the baby, Désirée says how proud he is and how pleased he is to have a son to bear his name. She also mentions that he has been much kinder to the slaves since the baby was born. Désirée is blissfully happy with her life and her family.

Things Change
Within a few months, Désirée begins to sense that something is amiss. There is an air of mystery among the slaves and unexpected visitors are coming to the plantation for no apparent reason. Then Armand...

(The entire section is 550 words.)