Désirée's Baby by Kate Chopin

Désirée's Baby book cover
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Discuss the role of race and gender in "Desiree's Baby."

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Race is definitive in determining the outcome of Kate Chopin's short story, "Desiree's Baby," although its presence is ambiguous, and gender is indicative of the unfulfillment of the individual.  As a foundling, the race of Desiree is assumed to be white by the Valmonde's who adopt her. When her mother comes to visit and notices Desiree's baby's curious resemblance to Zandrine, there is the immediate suggestion that Desiree's mysterious origin may be tainted.  As Desiree notices the little quadroon's resemblance to her child as the boy fans the baby, she becomes disturbed.  Upon the entrance of her husband Armand, who is of a very prestigious family in Louisiana, she asks him the meaning of the boys' resemblances.  Without delay, he, too, makes the assumption about the boy:

"It means," he answered lightly, "that the child is not white; it means that you are not white."

Without any hesitation about his own origins, Armand ironically concludes that the Negro blood resides in his wife because his lineage is far too aristocratic. And, since Desiree has defined herself as the privileged wife of Armand, having been told that she is not white, she is set apart as inferior and underserving of Armand's love and home.  Devasted by her tragic loss of identity, Desiree departs when her husband requests that she do so for having dealt him such "an unconscious injury."  She wanders and

disappears among the reeds and willows, that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again.

As a male of a presitigious family, Armand has let the suggestion of another race in his lineage prevent him from loving his child and his wife.  Desiree, in turn, has found no fulfillment as wife or mother.


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