Introduction to Désirée's Baby

“Désirée’s Baby” is a short story by Kate Chopin. It was first published in Vogue magazine in 1893 and was later included in Chopin’s 1894 short story collection, Bayou Folk. “Désirée’s Baby” is an insightful commentary on race, miscegenation, and sexism in the pre-Civil War South. 

The story describes the aftermath of the birth of Désirée's firstborn son. Désirée was adopted by a wealthy French Creole family after she was found abandoned at their gates. Désirée's unknown parentage works to her disadvantage when her husband, Armand, realizes that their infant son has Black ancestry. He angrily accuses Désirée of deceiving him and rejects both her and their son. A distraught Désirée takes the baby and walks into the bayou, never to be seen again. It is later revealed that it is actually Armand who has Black ancestry, highlighting the arbitrary nature of racial distinctions and the cruelty they so often cause. Furthermore, Désirée's inability to contest Armand’s accusations shows the relative powerlessness of women in Antebellum Southern society. 

The story, like much of Chopin’s writing, also draws influence from the local Creole culture of Louisiana, where Chopin lived for several years. Chopin’s writing is infused with colorful dialects and descriptions of local settings. This resulted in many contemporary critics dismissing the more literary qualities of her works and instead branding her as a regional author. However, Chopin’s adept renderings of women's experiences, particularly their desires for independence and personal identity, have made her works enduringly popular with modern readers.

A Brief Biography of Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin (1850–1904) was born to an Irish immigrant father and a French American mother. Though she was the third of five children, her older half-brothers died in their early twenties, and her younger sisters died in infancy. Her father died when she was four.

Kate Chopin’s life and work, considered together, show how difficult it is to define female identity in America. Chopin’s greatest works (The Awakening, “The Story of an Hour”) are defined by portraits of women becoming aware of their own desires, struggling to realize them, and dying. In her own life, it was Chopin’s loved ones who died and Chopin herself who lived to juggle artistic, social, and sexual desires while raising six children alone and dealing with her late husband’s debts. Her works repeatedly refuse to provide simple answers and instead draw readers into the complexities created by passion, racial bias, and the demands imposed by society.

Frequently Asked Questions about Désirée's Baby

Désirée's Baby

In "Désirée's Baby," Armand initially comes off as a passionate man. He falls for Désirée quickly and insists on marrying her. After their baby is born, Désirée claims that Armand is the proudest...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 11:51 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

Before Armand becomes a father, he treats the slaves on his plantation cruelly. When Désirée's adoptive mother visits following the birth of the baby, Désirée tells her that Armand hasn't punished...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 11:22 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

Désirée, mentioned in the story's title, is its protagonist. She was adopted by Madame Valmondé after being found lying asleep in the shadow of the "big stone pillar" of the gateway of Valmondé as...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 11:50 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

As Désirée's baby grows, he "changes," becoming darker skinned. Armand is made aware of this, and because of Désirée's unknown biological background, he begins to assume that she is actually Black....

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 11:06 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

Armand's behavior toward Désirée changes shortly after his son is born, as he realizes that their son is of mixed race. Désirée sees a similarity between the son and the "quadroon boy" who is...

Latest answer posted January 30, 2021, 12:06 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

There are three families in "Désirée's Baby," each very different. The first family is the family of "Texans" that left the baby Désirée at the Valmondé plantation. The story never explains their...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 12:22 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

At the end of the story, a pivotal scene involves the burning, by Armand, of letters Désirée had written to him previously. The story does not explicitly say if this bundle of letters contains...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 2:13 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

Madame Valmondé's reaction to seeing the baby after a four-week span in which she has not seen it sets the tone for what is to come. Her first reaction is to declare that it cannot be the same...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 11:13 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

Armand falls in love with Désirée almost unexpectedly. He has known Désirée for many years before he is suddenly overtaken by passion for her. When she was slightly older than a baby, Désirée was...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 11:09 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

Woven throughout this short story are clues that Désirée's union will not prove ultimately happy and that her giving birth reveals an unexpected truth. Though Désirée has fallen wholeheartedly in...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 12:41 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

La Blanche is mentioned only in passing in this short story and only three times, but she is an important character, as she lends considerable context to the conflict of the story. La Blanche's...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 11:38 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

At the end of "Désirée's Baby," there is a great bonfire at L'Abri, in which Armand burns everything that reminds him of Désirée and their child. Armand burns a "cradle of willow," "the richness of...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 11:47 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

The sad irony in this story is that at the end of the story, Désirée walks off into the bayou with her child—presumably intending to kill both herself and her baby because of her shame over a taint...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 11:56 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

In the story, Armand Aubigny cruelly rejects his wife, Désirée, because of her alleged mixed heritage. Although Chopin doesn't specify how Armand arrives at his belief about Désirée, we are told...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 3:39 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

"Désirée's Baby" is dominated by an ominous, foreboding mood. Initially, the story takes on the feel of a fairy tale as Madame Valmondé remembers how she adopted the mysterious Désirée, a...

Latest answer posted January 29, 2021, 12:01 pm (UTC)

3 educator answers

Désirée's Baby

This is not a question with a completely straightforward answer, given the way in which Kate Chopin chooses to end this short story. Certainly, the last image we have of the protagonist, Désirée,...

Latest answer posted January 28, 2021, 11:28 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

The general frame of a short story is understood to hang around a central conflict or problem that the characters must deal with and react to. In this story, set in the antebellum Southern US,...

Latest answer posted January 28, 2021, 11:34 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

The bonfire at the end of this story can be seen as a symbol of Armand's rage and destructiveness. An interesting parallel can be drawn between this bonfire, however, which is contained, and the...

Latest answer posted January 28, 2021, 11:57 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

In "Désirée's Baby," Désirée, an abandoned child of unknown origin, is taken in and adopted into the high society of the antebellum South, eventually marrying Armand, a prominent plantation owner....

Latest answer posted January 28, 2021, 11:53 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Désirée's Baby

The main idea of a short story is not the story's plot or even its key themes. Rather, the main idea is the overarching thing the reader is supposed to understand from the story: the moral to take...

Latest answer posted January 28, 2021, 11:44 am (UTC)

1 educator answer
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