What is a summary of Desiree's Baby?

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dshep500 | College Teacher | In Training Educator

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Published in 1893, the short story "Desiree's Baby" focuses on the complicated and difficult to define issue of race. The main character is Desiree Valmonde, who is the foundling child of a wealthy couple. A rich neighbor Armand Aubigny who grew up knowing Desiree as a child sees the beautiful 18-year-old Desiree napping and falls in love instantly. The girl's adopted father Monsieur Valmonde cautions the impulsive young man that her birth origin remains unknown. 

Armand looked into her eyes and did not care. He was reminded that she was nameless. What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana? ("Desiree's Baby")

Soon a son is born to the delighted couple. The cold and ruthless Armand that Desiree married changes to a more tolerant and somewhat gentle man. As the baby grows the slaves and community start to gossip. Unexpected visitors drop in with vague reasons why.  Most worrisome for Desiree is the change in Armand's mood without a clear explanation. 

He absented himself from home; and when there, avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse. And the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves. ("Desiree's Baby")

The happy and oblivious Desiree becomes gradually miserable. One day she notices a resemblance between her son and the child of one of their slaves. When Desiree confronts her husband about what it all means, he tells her that their child is not white and it can only be her fault. When she asks him if he wants her to take the baby and go, he nods in the affirmative. Having been made aware of the situation, Madame Valmonde compels her daughter to bring the child and come home where she is loved and accepted. It is made clear that Desiree has a safe place to go, but immediately following Armand's response,

Desiree walks across the field and into the bayou. She and her child are never seen again. ("Desiree's Baby")

The story ends with a short passage of time before Armand has the slaves burn every possession Desiree left behind. As he gathers the items to burn in the back of a drawer, he finds an old letter from his mother to his father that expresses gratitude for her husband's love.

“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.” (eNotes)

The story comes to an abrupt end. Readers are left to speculate about what happens next. Desiree and the baby's condition is left as a mystery. Armand's discovery creates an ironic final statement that Chopin declines to develop.

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