In "Desiree's Baby" by Kate Chopin, how is marriage portrayed?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As long as everything fits, Armand Aubigny finds contentment in his marriage.  In the story, “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, a cruel twist of fate ruins everything for the protagonist Desiree Aubigny. Told in omniscient third-person point of view, the narrator not only describes events as they unfold but also reveals the thoughts of the characters from time to time.   

Desiree’s heritage is unknown.  She was abandoned as a baby and raised by the Valmondes, a loving couple who adored Desiree.  As a young woman, Desiree is beautiful, gentle, and kind.  Armand sees her one day while he was riding by and immediately decides that she will be his bride. 

After the birth of Desiree's son, Madame Valmonde comes to see her daughter and grandson.  When she looks at the child closely, it is obvious that she sees something that Desiree,  through her love for her child, has not seen. She asks Desiree, "What does Armand say?"

Oh, Armand is the proudest father in the parish, I believe, chiefly because it is a boy, to bear his name; though he says not,--that he would have loved a girl as well. But I know it isn't true. I know he says that to please me.

Marriage, and later the birth of his son, had softened Armand greatly. This is was what made the gentle Desiree so happy, for she loved him desperately.

Finally, when the baby was three months old, a young mulatto [mixed race] boy fanned the child.  Desiree looked at the mulatto boy and then her son. She looked again and realized that her baby had the features of a mulatto just like the older boy.

Desiree was clever but naïve.  Looking back, she realized that something had changed in her relationship with Armand:

When he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out. He absented himself from home; and when there, avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse.

When Desiree confronts Armand, he tells her that the child is obviously not white.  Desiree is devastated. Armand tells her he does not love her any more.  He tells her to go and refuses to speak to her.  In his ignorance, he blames her for ruining his happiness..   

She had tricked him, and he could never forgive her. Desiree picks up the baby in her nightgown and walks off into the fields.  Armand burns everything that belonged to Desiree and the baby.

Here is the real pay back for Armand. He finds a letter written from his mother to his father. In it, she indicates that Armand is bi-racial…

Armand, typical of his class, arrogantly shuns his wife, who before the birth of the baby, he had adored.  Like many  American men of the nineteenth century South, Armand  finds  the worth of a person based on her race. If he really loved her how could he change so quickly?  Society would not accept this marriage or the baby if there were any question of their race.  Without any attempt to aid or help Desiree, Armand disowns both her and the baby.

It is hard to determine the reaction in today's society of the discovery that someone is mulatto after marriage. However, there are many mixed race relationships. View on the races dating and marrying have become so much more liberal than Armand's time. 

The reader must wonder how Armand feels after his discovery of his questionable race.  Will he try to find Desiree and make up for his misplaced actions? It is doubtful that Armand will do the right thing. He will only curse God and blame others for his problems.