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"And mamma," she added, drawing Madame Valmonde's head down to her, and speaking in a whisper, "he hasn't punished one of them - not one of them - since baby is born. Even Negrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg that he might rest from work ...." Marriage, and later the birth of his son had softened Armand Aubigny's imperious and exacting nature greatly.
Very little is said in this short, short story about Armand's behavior toward his slaves, though we are told that his "rule was a strict one." We do know that he punishes them, apparently severely and capriciously; that he is hard and authoritarian in nature and therefore with his slaves. We also know that he expects unquestioning obedience as is demonstrated by the instant, unquestioning reaction of the "little quadroon boy" when Desiree gasps, cries out, and points to the door.
Armand's treatment of his slaves is directly related to his own personal happiness. He is presented as being a harsh man who works his slaves hard, yet when he has his child, he is so happy that he softens in his attitudes towards everybody. However, as it becomes clear that the child is of dark-skinned origin, his behaviour revers. We can therefore relate his treatment of slaves to his personal happiness.
Young Aubigny's rule was a strict one, too, and under it his negroes had forgotten how to be gay, as they had been during the old master's easy-going and indulgent lifetime.
There is much irony, of course, in these lines from Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby" since Armand Aubigny himself is unknowingly the son of a slave. While his father had been "indulgent" with the slaves, probably because he had fallen in love with a slave himself, his son is unaware of his mother's origin since his father brought him from France back to New Orleans where he has grown up thinking himself a gentleman of good name. After his baby is born, Armaud begins to treat the slaves better in his happiness at having a son. Desiree tells her mother of her husband:
“he hasn't punished one of them—not one of them—since the baby is born. Even Négrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg that he might rest from work—he only laughed, and said Négrillon was a great scamp. Oh, Mamma, I'm so happy; it frightens me.”
However, after the baby grows and begins to look amazingly like one of the little slaves, Armaud's treatment of the slaves becomes cruel again:I
He absented himself from home; and when there, avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse. And the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves.
In another irony, then, Armaud blames the baby's resemblance to one of the quadroon boys on his wife, whose origin is unknown. When Desiree asks Armaud what the child's appearance means, he tells her, "...the child is not white; it means you are not white." But, of course, Chopin's surprise ending reveals a truth that Armaud has refused to entertain: it was his mother who was a slave.
Of course, the moral of the story is that one must never be complacent about one's superiority; there are often "skeletons in the closet."
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