Désirée's Baby Study Guide
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.