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Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin
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In "Désirée's Baby," why do you think there was an "air of mystery among the blacks" and frequent visitors to L'Abri about three months after Désirée's baby was born?

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Among the slaves at L'Abri there is wonderment at the appearance of Desiree's baby. Certainly, they would be able to recognize a mulatto, as mixed light-skinned blacks were termed during the time of Chopin's story. Probably, the slaves would assume that Master Armand's wife, whom they would know is of...

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Among the slaves at L'Abri there is wonderment at the appearance of Desiree's baby. Certainly, they would be able to recognize a mulatto, as mixed light-skinned blacks were termed during the time of Chopin's story. Probably, the slaves would assume that Master Armand's wife, whom they would know is of "obscure origin," has a rather clouded ancestry which could easily include miscegenation, which was not uncommon in the Deep South. Another reason that they may suspect Madame Armand's racial make-up is the fact that she was mysteriously found by Madame Valmonde. Perhaps, then, she was discarded by a white mother who had forbidden pleasures, or by a father who wished to hide his licentiousness from the mistress of the plantation.

At any rate, it is apparent that the slaves have recognized the baby as a non-white child. For, when Madame Valmonde visits Desiree, she exclaims, "This is not the baby!"

Madame Valmonde had never removed her eyes from the child. She lifted it and walked with it over to the window that was lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then looked as searchingly at Zandrine ["the yellow nurse woman"--a mulatto, herself] whose face was turned to gaze across the fields.

Clearly, Mme. Valmonde sees the likeness between her grandchild and Zandrine. And, later in the narrative as Desiree sits languidly in her room, no longer Armand's pet, one of the quadroon [one-fourth black] boys fans her,

She looked from her child to the boy who stood beside him, and back again; over and over. "Ah!" It was a cry that she could not help

Now, Desiree herself knows why there has been "an air of mystery among the blacks." They have recognized her baby as like the quadroon boys. The baby is apparently of mixed race.

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When the baby is about three months old, Desiree awakes one morning with the sense of "something in the air menacing her peace." She has been on a honeymoon of sorts both with the baby and with Armand. Armand has been less harsh with the slaves and softer toward her. Now something is obviously wrong. At this point in the story, Chopin keeps everything ambiguous; in fact, ambiguity is a hallmark of this story. Based on what happens later, however, readers can infer that the "mystery among the blacks" means that the slaves have noticed that Desiree's baby is developing African facial features. This would be astonishing to the slaves. Mixed blood children were common on the plantation; in fact, La Blanche's boy, who comes in to fan the baby, is quadroon, or one-quarter black. But those children have black mothers and white fathers, born from slavemasters abusing their female slaves. If Desiree's baby has African heritage, then either Desiree or Armand must be part black, or Armand is not the father. Any of those scenarios would be momentous.

Not just the slaves recognize the black features of the baby. Armand has to have noticed as well; he calls in "far-off neighbors" to weigh in on the situation. They apparently confirm that the child is black and that this is a serious problem for Armand. This results in a "strange [and] awful change in her husband's behavior" toward Desiree. Armand now knows that either Desiree, whose heritage is unknown, is part black, or he is—a possibility he cannot entertain even for a moment. Eventually Armand tells Desiree he wants her to go. She complies, and Chopin leaves it ambiguous whether Desiree believes she is of mixed race or whether she understands that Armand is and she must sacrifice herself for Armand's reputation.

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In Chopin's "Desiree's Baby", the use of inference is very important.  Readers are first cued in to there being issues with Desiree and Armand's baby when her mother arrives and talks about how much the baby has changed.  Active readers know here that something is out of sorts.

The visitors to L'Abri are coming to see what Armand's slaves are rumoring about.  The frequent visitors are coming to see the baby based upon rumors that something is just not right about the child. This information is implied, not stated.

By the end, readers come to know that the child is part black.  Slaves, during this period, would recognize black characteristics in a child.  They would then leak out the information to others that there was the potential that Armand's child was part black. This could ruin both Armand's names and the respect others held for him.

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