woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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How is power used to create justice in "Désirée's Baby"?

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If it is justice you are looking for, then arguably the only kind of justice that exists in this story is poetic justice. This of course occurs at the end of the story in an ironic twist, when Armand, trying to cleanse his life of his former wife and child, discovers the truth about his own heritage and that the dark skin of his child was not thanks to his wife but to his own genes. This really is the only example of justice in this excellent short story, as, apart from this, there are no clear "winners." Part of the message of this story seems to be that everybody is a loser when racism is allowed to exist unchallenged and unchecked.

As far as the use of power is concerned, it is of course Armand's power that again ironically creates the justice in this short story. Note that it is his command to burn any scrap or sign of Desiree and her child's existence that leads to his discovery of the letter indicating his own mixed heritage:

In the centre of the smoothly-swept back-yard there was a great bonfire. Armand Aubigny sat in the wide hallway ... it was he who dealt out to a half-dozen negroes the material that kept this fire ablaze.

Note Armand, as always, is in power at this fire, and it is his desire to erase any "impure blood" from its association with him that leads to the poetic justice of discovering his true background:

"... dear Armand will never know that his mother ... belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery."

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In "Desiree's Baby" by Kate Chopin, there are no winners.  Everyone loses something because of prejudice, racism, and misunderstanding. 

When the main character, Desiree finds that her baby has Negroid features she does not understand how the baby could be bi-racial.  She is white.  Armand, her husband, also is white. 

On the other hand, Armand knows that Desiree's heritage is basically unknown.  She must have black ancestry.  Even though Armand had been told that no one knew from where Desiree came, it did not make a difference because he loved her and wanted to marry her.  Now, that there is evidence that she is mulatto,  Armand will not be able to face living with wife and a child that are part black. 

As the powerful, and aristocratic owner of the plantation, Armand makes all the decisions.  Forgetting his talk with Desiree's father about her background and that it did not matter to him, Armand only holds resentment in his heart.  With no discussion or communication,  Armand agrees that Desiree should go and take the baby with her.  Desiree and the baby walk off toward the bayou, and the reader does not really know what happens to them.

How does power find justice in this story? When Armand decides to rid himself of all signs of his wife and the baby, he burns everything that they have ever touched.   During this time, he finds a letter that was written from his mother to his father. Armand is shocked when he reads:

'But above all,' she wrote, 'night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.'

Wonder how the news made Armand feel? He was the one with the black ancestry; furthermore, he was the one who ruined people's lives: Desiree, the baby, the Valmondes [her adopted parents]. Armand had the power to love and keep the beautiful Desiree and the baby because they belonged to him or to send them away. Desiree had no say in the course of their lives. 

Now the balance of power has moved out of Armand's control. When he was the master of the plantation, his wife, the baby, and the slaves, his justice was the only thing that mattered.   With only his foolish pride, his power with justice has backfired.   Everything that he believed in is lost to him, even his own heritage.

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