Examine the aspects of atmoshphere and setting in the story that contribute to the readers' understanding of the characters' mental states."Desiree's Baby"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Like so many of Kate Chopin's stories, "Desiree's Baby" is set in  Creole Louisiana.  Old plantations and an old, venerable family name contrast with the unknown origin of a beautiful girl who is found lying asleep outside Valmonde plantation.  As a young man, Armand Aubigny, from a neighboring plantation "looked into her eyes and did not care" about Desiree's "obscure origin."  Like all Aubignys, secure in who he is, he falls in love, "as if struck by a pistol shot, not reasonably.

Considered fortunate to marry a gentleman of such a fine name, Desiree settles into L'Abri, the plantation of the Aubgnys, and gives birth to a son.  However, surrounded by Zandrine, the mulatto nurse and another mulatto who fans the baby, it is apparent that Desiree's baby is not white.  People come from neighboring areas to look at the baby, and Armand becomes distant with Desiree:

And the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves.  Desiree was miserable enough to die.

Finally, Desiree sees what others have already seen.  When her husband enters, she asks him despairingly about the baby:  "Tell me what it means!" Armand "answers lightly":

I means that the child is not white; it means that you are not white."

In the Creole society, one that is male dominated, the question of any problem with Amand Aubigny's ancestor does not enter his mind.  The colored blood must come from his wife, whose origin is unknown.  Familiar with her society and the life at L'Abri, Desiree finds the nerve to counter this accusation, declaring "I am white!"  But, as the female in a male-dominated society, she is blamed.  This result is, of course, tragic, as Armand discovers the letter from his mother to his father, a letter that reveals her race and her happiness that it is hidden from her son, whom she adores.  Unquestionably, then, Kate Chopin's story is a tale of despair caused by the conventionalities of a Creole society in Louisiana.

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