Compare and contrast "Desiree's Baby" and "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin.

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These two stories by Kate Chopin have a few similarities and many differences. Both stories have a young married woman as the main character: Desiree and Mrs. Mallard. Both women are under the control of their husbands and live in male-dominated cultures, and both women love their husbands. Each woman enjoys a short episode of bliss and also experiences a revelation while in her own bedroom. Desiree is blissfully happy for the first month after her baby is born, especially since Armand, her husband, becomes uncharacteristically kind towards the slaves because he is so pleased about having a son. But when the baby is about three months old, Desiree notices something unusual about the baby, something she has never realized before, when she is lying with him on her bed. Mrs. Mallard goes to her room to mourn her husband's death, and while there, she realizes that she is now free, and she relishes the thought. Both women succumb to an untimely death at the end of the story. Desiree walks ill-prepared with her baby into the bayou instead of taking the road to her family home, and the assumption of most readers is that she dies in the swamp. Mrs. Mallard learns suddenly that her husband is not dead after all and dies from a heart attack because of the shock. 

Despite those similarities, the stories are really quite different. "Desiree's Baby" is set on a plantation in the bayou country of Louisiana during the pre-Civil War era over a period of two months. "The Story of an Hour" takes place in a very short time period in an urban setting probably in the 1890s. Desiree is treated well by her husband at first, but when he finds out their child is part black, he treats her cruelly. Brently Mallard imposes his will on his wife mostly with "a kind intention," not with abuse. Desiree is a new mother; Mrs. Mallard appears to be childless. Desiree hears what is probably a lie about herself from her husband, namely, that she is not white. Mrs. Mallard hears a falsehood about her husband from a friend, namely, that he is dead. Desiree has a support system in her mother, but in the end, she refuses to go to her. Mrs. Mallard's sister, Josephine, is there for her, and Mrs. Mallard heeds Josephine's calls and comes out to her. Desiree chooses to end her own life (presumably), but Mrs. Mallard dies unexpectedly from a heart attack. Most importantly, the themes of the stories are quite different. "Desiree's Baby" portrays the cruelty produced by racial prejudice while "The Story of an Hour" explores the issues of power and freedom in marriage. 

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thematically, both stories show the dangers of inequality. In "The Story of an Hour," Louise Mallard's temporary embrace of her freedom from the rule of her husband—despite the fact that she acknowledges how loving he was—conveys the idea that inequality between the sexes is detrimental to both men and women. Louise has, apparently, felt quite trapped and limited by her marriage, an institution in which the husband held all the legal power and the wife none. Brently, her husband, whether he was aware of it or not, has been living in a marriage in which his wife only "loved him— sometimes. Often she had not," despite is whole-hearted love for her. Neither partner benefited, really, from this marriage as a result of the inequality which was part and parcel of it.

In "Desiree's Baby," racism compels Armand Aubigny to loathe his child, an infant who appears to have some black ancestry. If you believe that he was aware of his own heritage, then, on some level, he must loathe himself as well because he feels duty-bound to blame his wife for their child's coloring (rather than allow his own heritage to become known); if you believe that he was unaware, then he grows to loathe his wife when he suspects her of having black ancestry. Their marriage and happiness are forfeit when Armand realizes that the child is displaying evidence of black heritage; he seems to feel he has no choice but to condemn his child so as to retain his own social standing. If there had been racial equality, Armand and Desiree could have continued their life together without concern for their authority and standing in the community.

Thus, each story shows the danger of some kind of social and legal inequality, though "The Story of an Hour" focuses on gender inequality while "Desiree's Baby" shows one problem associated with racial inequality.