woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin
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Explain the South's tensions and aberrations revealed in "Désirée's Baby."

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In Kate Chopin's story "Désirée's Baby," the tensions and troubles of the South appear in clear relief, especially with regard to the ideas of social status and racial purity.

There are secrets in the lives of both Désirée and her husband, Armand. Désirée was left at her adoptive parents' gate when she was little more than a baby. No one knows her origins. Armand claims that he does not care. He will give her his name, the name of one of the proudest families in the South.

When Désirée has her first child, her mother comes to visit a few weeks later and notices something out of the ordinary. She says nothing specific to Désirée, who is happy with her baby and with the fact that Armand has stopped being so harsh with the slaves on their plantation. However, as the weeks pass, Armand changes again. He becomes cold to Désirée and the child, wanting nothing to do with them. Désirée cannot figure it out, until she notices the similarity between her baby and a little mixed-race slave boy. Désirée's baby is clearly partly white and partly Black.

Armand believes that Désirée must have some Black ancestry. After all, no one knows her origins. She is, therefore, racially impure, and so is their child. Armand's passionate love disappears in the face of this revelation, and he agrees that Désirée and the child should go back to her parents' house, never more to return. Désirée takes the baby and walks off into the bayou, apparently ending both of their lives.

A while later, though, the truth comes to light. The racial "impurity" is not on Désirée's side, but Armand's own. He reads a letter from his mother, who died in France when he was young, to his father in which she expresses her gratitude that their son will never know that she is a descendant of the race "cursed with brand of slavery." Armand is the one of mixed race, not Désirée, but he learns this too late to save his wife and child, whom he has cast away simply because of his ideas about race.

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