Désirée's Baby by Kate Chopin

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Kate Chopin's short story "Désirée's Baby" focuses on Désirée, an orphan who is adopted by wealthy plantation owners. She grows up and marries neighboring plantation owner Armand and they start a family together.

  • Armand and Désirée's marriage, once so passionate and loving, turns bitter and resentful when their baby appears to be of mixed race.
  • Armand accuses Désirée, whose true parents are unknown, of having black ancestry. Distraught, she takes the baby and walks off into the wilderness, never to be seen again. Afterwards, Armand finds a scrap of one of his mother's letters in which she reveals that she is black.

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In "Desiree's Baby" Chopin explores Southern racism and the widespread abhorrence of miscegenation (the mixture of races, specifically the cohabitation or marriage between a white person and a member of another race). The story focuses on the life of a young woman named Desiree who was adopted into a wealthy Louisiana family and who grows up and marries a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner. When Desiree and her husband Armand have a child who appears to have black blood, Armand accuses Desiree of having mixed ancestry. As an adopted female, she has no power to argue with him. Then the plot takes an unexpected twist, and the tragedy that results leads to a brutal understanding of the personal degradations that arise from a social system based on white supremacy and the subjugation of women and people of color.

The truth Chopin reveals at the end of her story makes Armand's life and his condemnation of Desiree tragically ironic. "Desiree's Baby" dramatizes Armand's anger and racism and the plight of Desiree, who has no identity apart from her husband. Armand values his prestigious name more than his wife, and he considers her delivery of a black child the ultimate disgrace. The accusation of mixed ancestry disrupts the marriage and reevaluates Desiree's worth. Thus, the story's focus allows Chopin to portray the legacy of the slavery system, the force of sexual passion, and the confused sense of honor that ruled these characters' lives.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the story opens, Madame Valmonde is on her way to visit Désirée and her new baby. As she makes the short trip to the nearby plantation, Madame Valmonde thinks back to the time when Désirée was herself an infant. Her husband had found the child lying asleep near a pillar at the entrance to the Valmonde plantation, probably having been left there by a party of Texans who had passed by that day. Childless themselves, the Valmondes adopted Désirée.

Désirée grows into a beautiful woman, and, when she is eighteen years old, Armand Aubigny falls in love with her. When he proposes, Monsieur Valmonde reminds Armand that her parentage and ancestry are unknown, but Armand dismisses all objections. After all, he can give her one of the finest names and lineages in Louisiana.

They soon marry, and at first their life together is happy. Armand, a harsh man toward his slaves, becomes more humane; following the birth of their first child, a son, Armand grows even kinder. Shortly thereafter, however, Armand becomes crueler than ever. He also stays away from home for long periods of time, and when he is at home he shows no affection for Désirée.

One afternoon, as Désirée sits listlessly in her room, she glances at her child lying on the bed. A quadroon slave is fanning the child, and suddenly she is struck by the similarity in their features. As soon as her husband arrives, she asks for an explanation. Armand replies that her suspicions are correct; the child is not white. If the child is not white, Armand continues, then neither is Désirée.

She refuses to believe Armand’s accusation and writes to her foster mother to confirm her racial purity. Madame Valmonde responds by inviting Désirée and her baby to return home. She says nothing about Armand’s accusation, though, thus tacitly confirming it.

After receiving this letter, Désirée asks her husband what he wants her to do....

(The entire section is 1,301 words.)