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Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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In Chopin's "Désirée's Baby," why had Armand's mother never left France?

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Chopin's "Désirée's Baby," published in 1893, explains early in the story why Madame Aubigny, Armand's mother, never left France:

Old Monsieur Aubigny having married and buried his wife in France, and she having loved her own land too well ever to leave it.

We more fully understand Madame Aubigny's refusal to leave France when we learn at the end of the story, through a letter Madame Aubigny wrote, that she herself "belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.” 1893 America had—on paper at least—abolished slavery 30 years prior. However, a strict racial hierarchy still oppressed and disenfranchised African Americans; black people were still stereotyped as primitive and ignorant. Madame Aubigny thus protects herself by staying in France, a country that had abolished slavery in 1789 with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (although it is not until 1848 that slavery is abolished in all French colonies as well). Because France is far more progressive than America, it is a much safer place for Madame Aubigny than Louisiana. As we see Armand reject Désirée when he believes her to have black ancestry, we understand why Madame Aubigny did not want to subject herself to such painful stereotypes and social ostracization.

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At the end of "Desiree's Baby," Armand discovers a letter from his mother to his father. She writes,

"But above all . . . 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."

From the letter, Armand realizes that his mother is part black and that he has expelled his wife and child from his home for something that is connected to him, not to Desiree. Armand's reason for forcing Desiree to leave would have been socially acceptable during the pre-Civil War time period--a truth that his mother had realized and taken precautions against. This is why she chose to live in France, a more forward-thinking country at that time, where she and Armand's father could maintain their relationship in peace; for in the United States, mixed-race marriages were not simply socially unacceptable, they were dangerous and illegal for their participants.  

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