This story by Kate Chopin deals with issues of race, family, and racial stereotypes with minor references to religion. The reaction of a mother to her child is repeated in three different ways. The beginning of the story relates how Madame Valmonde adopts the toddler Desiree, who has been abandoned by her birth parents or family. Madame Valmonde, who is childless, considers the arrival of Desiree to be a gift of "a beneficent Providence." During the middle part of the story, Desiree gives birth to Armand's child. She is fascinated by the baby, exclaiming to her mother about his arms, legs, fingernails, and lusty cry. The story ends with a letter penned by Armand's mother, "who adores him," thanking God that her child will never know that his mother was black.
This natural love of one's offspring is unfortunately broken by Armand when his baby reaches three months of age. Armand has discerned that the child is of mixed race, and he blames Desiree's unknown heritage for that. When Desiree demands that Armand look at their child and tell her what it means, he replies, "It means ... that the child is not white. It means that you are not white." Desiree protests, showing Armand that she is whiter than he is. He replies that she is as white as one of the slaves who is of mixed race and turns his back on her and his own child. This is because anyone who had black heritage was considered inferior and would be subject to laws in the Southern U.S. that treated them as lesser beings. As Armand's mother wrote, being black was considered a curse.
Although Desiree's mother pleads with her to come back "home" where she is loved by her family, she instead walks into the bayou with her child, where they presumably both die. Whether it was the rejection from her husband or the thought of living out the rest of her days as a black person that drove her to choose death, the story doesn't say. But clearly the way Armand and others in the South elevated racial issues above family love and loyalty creates the tragic outcome of the story.
The irony, of course, is that Armand is the one who passed the black heritage on to his child. Upon reading his mother's letter, he realizes that he belongs to the race he has so cruelly despised. Thus Chopin ends her story with a surprise that drives home the importance of family and the tragedy of racism.
Themes of race and racism are central to this story. Note how Armand responds when he discovers that the child is of mixed ancestry - he assumes it is Desiree's unknown background that is responsible and therefore rejects both his wife and child because of this lack of "whiteness." Yet, ironically, at the end it is shown that the mixed ancestry comes from Armand and not from Desiree, thus establishing the fact that ideas of race and racism are man-made rather than essential realities.
It may help to begin a discussion of this by starting at the end. What hashappened to Desiree and her baby? What does Armand learn at the end of thestory? It might be safe to say that Desiree commits suicide and that Armand subsequently discovers evidence that links his heritage with the black race he seems to despise so much, but students may debate these points.