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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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.