Désirée's Baby Summary
Kate Chopin's short story "Désirée's Baby" examines the arbitrary hierarchies of race, gender, and class in the antebellum South.
- Désirée, an abandoned orphan who was adopted by wealthy plantation owners, has married Armand Aubigny, who owns a neighboring plantation.
- Armand and Désirée's marriage, once passionate and loving, turns bitter and resentful when they have a baby who appears to be of mixed race.
- Armand accuses Désirée 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.
“Désirée’s Baby” takes place in antebellum Louisiana. Madame Valmondé has gone to L’Abri to visit Désirée, her foster daughter, who is married to the estate’s young owner, Armand Aubigny. Désirée has just had a baby and appears to be overjoyed with motherhood and the mutual happiness she and her husband are experiencing.
Désirée’s own origin is mysterious. Eighteen years before, as an infant of “toddling age,” she was found sleeping against a stone pillar on the Valmondé estate. Some people believed she must have wandered there on her own, but most assumed that she had been brought to Louisiana “by a party of Texans” in a canvas-covered wagon that had crossed the ferry nearby. The Valmondé family adopted her, and Madame Valmondé, who has no biological children of her own, loves Désirée very much.
The Valmondé and Aubigny families live on neighboring plantations, and Désirée and Armand have known each other for most of their lives. Armand lived in Paris with his parents until the age of eight and was brought to Louisiana when his mother died. Rather suddenly, Armand fell in love with Désirée when he saw her standing one day “against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before.” All of the Aubignys are said to fall in love quickly, “as if struck by a pistol shot,” and Armand was no exception.
Armand intended to marry Désirée, but before the wedding, Monsieur Valmondé “grew practical” and wished to find out more about Désirée’s “obscure” origin. But Armand did not care about Désirée’s namelessness, saying that he intended to give her his own—“one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana.” He quickly ordered the corbeille (the clothing and accessories that form a dowry) for her. The two were then married, and soon after, they had a child.
When Madame Valmondé visits L’Abri, she is disconcerted, as always, by how unkempt and “sad” the place appears. When Monsieur Aubigny, Armand’s father, came to Louisiana after the death of his wife, he took little care about the appearance of the plantation. But the most striking impression Madame Aubigny has during her visit is that of the baby’s appearance. Something has changed about him in the four weeks since she has seen him, though the nature of this change is kept from the reader. Madame Aubigny even declares, “This is not the baby!”
Désirée believes that Madame Aubigny is simply surprised at how much the baby has grown. She describes him as a little “cochon de lait ”—a suckling pig—and for the moment, Désirée’s happiness with the infant and her marriage to Armand overrides the older woman’s concern. Still, Madame Valmondé looks carefully at the baby and glances back and forth between him and the nurse, a “yellow” woman named Zandrine, who wears a turban. Désirée tells her foster mother that Armand is proud of the baby. In fact, Armand is so happy—especially because the baby is a boy—that his usually severe (that is, cruel) behavior toward the enslaved people on his plantation has softened. It appears a great achievement to Désirée that Armand hasn’t punished any of the enslaved people there since the baby was born. This is completely unlike him and more similar to the easygoing ways...
(The entire section is 1,132 words.)