In Kate Chopin 's short story "Desiree's Baby," Desiree, a seemingly white-skinned woman, and her husband Armand, a seemingly white-skinned man, have a baby that seems to be of mixed racial descent. Armand claims Desiree must have black ancestors because he can't possibly be of mixed heritage. The story reveals...
In Kate Chopin's short story "Desiree's Baby," Desiree, a seemingly white-skinned woman, and her husband Armand, a seemingly white-skinned man, have a baby that seems to be of mixed racial descent. Armand claims Desiree must have black ancestors because he can't possibly be of mixed heritage. The story reveals eventually that Armand's family history is more complex than he realizes.
Early in the story, the narrator tells us, literally, why Armand's mother didn't leave France:
When she (Desiree) reached L’Abri she shuddered at the first sight of it, as she always did. It was a sad looking place, which for many years had not known the gentle presence of a mistress, old Monsieur Aubigny having married and buried his wife in France, and she having loved her own land too well ever to leave it.
This passage describes the Aubigny manor, L'Abri, which has apparently suffered for not having a mistress to oversee its upkeep. This is because Madame Aubigny died in France. The quote also says that she loved France too much to move to another country. This all seems innocent enough, but we learn later that there may have been other reasons for Madame Aubigny's desire to live in France instead of the antebellum United States.
At the end of the story, after Aubigny has disowned his wife and child, Armand is looking through items in the home, throwing everything associated with the baby into a huge fire. Lastly, he finds a letter from his mother to his father. The letter 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.”
This letter clarifies how Armand and Desiree's baby ended up looking like a mixed-race child. Armand himself is racially mixed. It seems that he is light-skinned enough, though, to have passed as white, never knowing his mother's full identity. The story ends with the letter, but readers have to imagine that this revelation makes Armand feel immensely guilty about he way he turned out his wife and child. Madame Aubigny's race likely would have made her life in France more comfortable than it could have been in the American South. Monsieur Aubigny would not have been able to have a black wife, or at least, it would have been highly unconventional. In other words, her racial identity also helps to explain why Madame Aubigny would have preferred France.