Can someone explain the role of Madame Volmonde in Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin please

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although seemingly unimportant, due to the scarce number of times that she appears in the story, Madame Volmonde is actually the key that hides a significant amount of foreshadowing in the story.

The wife of a well-established man, Madame Volmonde and her husband adopt foundling Desiree as their own child. The story begins with Mdme. Volmonde going to see Desiree's first child; a baby whom Mdme. Volmonde had not seen in four weeks after his birth.

In a clever play on words, Chopin clearly shows the reader that Madame Volmonde is the first person to realize that Desiree's child is different. However, Chopin downplays Volmonde's words with Desiree's own views and opinions about the changes in her baby's growth.

Upon doing a closer reading, or a second reading, of the story we realize that Madame Volmonde was not speaking about the baby's growth when she first expresses the words:

That is not the baby!

We know this because of a poignant, yet, seemingly unimportant action that may even be overlooked by the reader at first:

Madame Valmonde had never removed her eyes from the child. She lifted it and walked with it over to the window that was lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then looked as searchingly at Zandrine, whose face was turned to gaze across the fields.

It is clear, as it is later shown, that Madame Volmonde is the first to observe that this child is actually a black child. Why else would she need to move to the lightest part of the window to take a closer look? Moreover, why the need to scan the baby so closely, and then look straight at Zandrine, who is also black and the babys nursemaid! Then, notice Zandrine's own expression: is she gazing across the fields because she also noticed something of which she much rather not speak?

As already said, each comment that Mme. Volmonde makes is deflected by Desiree's happy mood. As a result, Madame Volmonde may have assumed that the baby's father may have also noticed the obvious. This is the reason why she asks:

"What does Armand say?"

to which Desiree responds with positive and happy news.

As the story develops, it takes three more months for Armand to begin to detach from his child and wife. It is then when Desiree finally seems to awake form a daze and realizes that the child is, indeed, different. When Armand blames Desiree of being black (after all, she is adopted and nobody knows her ancestry), Desiree goes into a trauma that ends with her drowning herself and her child in the bayou. However, through a clever switch of situations, Chopin uses Madame Volmonde again merely to call her daughter back to their home, in order to comfort her daughter.

When a seemingly casual letter reveals that it is Armand who has the black ancestry, and not Desiree, is when the otherwise-casual actions of Mdme. Volmonde that day that she said "That is not the baby!" take a completely different meaning.