In "Desiree's Baby," how is the behavior of the characters limited or affected by the roles of race and gender?

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It is important to clarify that it is the racial role that affects behavior in this story, not race itself. Race is a social construct that does not exist outside human perception, as we can see by the revelation that Armand’s mother was black. So, his race only affected his...

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It is important to clarify that it is the racial role that affects behavior in this story, not race itself. Race is a social construct that does not exist outside human perception, as we can see by the revelation that Armand’s mother was black. So, his race only affected his behavior as far as he knew about it, not intrinsically.

In this story, the starkest way that race affects characters’ behavior is that the story takes place during a time when black people were owned as slaves.

When Desiree is upset that Armand thinks she is black, he remarks that her hand is only “as white as LaBlanche’s.” The reader can see that the character LaBlanche is a black woman who has a son who is a “quadroon” (a racist word used to measure an idea "percentage" of race). This kind of discrimination is known as colorism: discriminating based on differences in skin tone or “levels of purity." LaBlanche’s status is affected not only by colorism, but also by her status as a woman and mother. It is implied that Armand is the father of her “quadroon” child when Desiree notices the similarity between them, and by Desiree’s comment that Armand could hear the baby screaming “as far away as LaBlanche’s cabin.”

So the effect of race in this story is compounded by gender roles. Desiree’s only value could be as a white mother to Armand’s white child; when that is compromised, she loses her value. LaBlanche, as a light-skinned black woman, never had that value to begin with, and her child goes unacknowledged and unnamed.

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Characters are quite limited if they are not white and/or male in the society of "Desiree's Baby." Desiree herself is a great example. As a woman, she is expected to be meek and subservient to her husband Armand, even when he is cruel and tyrannical. She does not fight for herself or her child when Armand sends her away during the climax, showing how little rights a woman in such a society has, especially when her ethnicity is in doubt.

Race is everything in such a milieu. To be white is to be allowed a place of power, whereas those of black or mixed ancestry are not allowed such a position and are relegated to servitude. When Desiree's ethnic heritage is thrown into doubt, she is ostracized by her former neighbors and abandoned by her respectable husband.

Ultimately, it turns out Armand is of mixed racial heritage, not Desiree. His own mother did not want him to be aware of this, since that would mean loss of privilege and position. Armand is able to hide his heritage, and the sexism of his society makes him able to get away with his unjust treatment of his wife and child.

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There is certainly a very delineated separation between males and females, blacks and whites, and the rich and the poor that is ever-present in Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby". This separation alienates the characters because there is a clear partiality to the aristocratic, white Louisiana natives while their minority counterparts remain abused and ostracized.

In the specific case of women, Desiree is a woman whose status makes her completely dependent on her husband, Armand. Although she comes from a good family with renowned position, she is nevertheless a woman. In 19th century Louisiana, a woman is subservient and codependent on the head of the household. However, Desiree almost takes her submissive behavior to another level.

It is clear that Armand is described as "imperious" in the story, but this is not the factor that makes Desiree so worried about his love for her. It is merely the fact that Desiree seems to be, by nature, an enabler; someone who allows people to treat her in a condescending manner, so that by giving them power over her, she can feel somewhat in control of her role within the relationship. It is a dismal and dysfunctional way to gain control of a situation of which she has none.

So subservient and submissive is Desiree as a woman, that she does not even dare to confront her husband and assert her rights as a wife and mother.

Then a strange, an awful change in her husband's manner, which she dared not ask him to explain. When he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out.

Moreover, Desiree's cowardice against her husband has her even look for the answer to her questions through Armand, instead of using her common sense to explain the situation. As a result, Armand reinforces his control to exert more oppression over his wife.

"Armand," she panted once more, clutching his arm, "look at our child. What does it mean? Tell me."... she cried despairingly...."It means," he answered lightly, "that the child is not white; it means that you are not white."

Rather than fight for the right that she has to be loved regardless of her background, Desiree makes a sad attempt for Armand's understanding by stating over and over that she is indeed white, that her eyes are grey, etc. Nothing worked, in the end, and Desiree's cries for love became muffled by the chauvinistic and sadistic behavior of her husband. Therefore, being a woman means for Desiree the elimination of any possible justice for her cause. 

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