Désirée's Baby Characters
The main characters in "Désirée's Baby" are Désirée, Armand, and the Valmondes.
- Désirée Valmonde Aubigny is a foundling who disappears with her child after her husband Armand accuses her of being part African American.
- Armand Aubigny is Désirée's husband, whose parents hid the fact that he's part African American from him, leading him to falsely accuse Désirée of contributing to their child's black ancestry.
- Madame Valmonde is Désirée's adoptive mother. She invites Désirée to move back home after her marriage disintegrates.
- Monsieur Valmonde is a plantation owner who discovers the foundling Désirée when she is just a toddler.
Armand is a neighbor of the Valmondes. He has inherited his father's plantation along with one of the finest and oldest names in Louisiana. He seems to see the things in his life—Désirée, their child, his slaves—as mere possessions, ones that either reflect well or poorly upon him. His self-interest is easily evidenced in his strict rule of his slaves and his eager acquisition of Désirée. At first, Désirée's influence seems to soften him, and he is kinder to his slaves. She also thinks he is enormously proud of having a boy child—again, a possession that will bear his name. However, upon discovering his child's mixed ancestry, and blaming it on Désirée, Armand cruelly casts aside his wife and son, for they now have no worth to him. The unexplored irony of the story rests in his realization that it is he, not Désirée, who has African blood.
Désiréé Valmonde Aubigny
Désirée is the adopted daughter of the Valmonde family. Madame and Monsieur Valmonde have raised Désirée since she was a toddler when they found her by the plantation's front gate. Despite the fact that her ancestry is unknown, Désirée has grown up to be the ‘‘idol of Valmonde.’’ She is a sweet, kind, affectionate girl. Her mild-mannered character, however, leads her to rely too much on Armand's love and approval. As his wife, her whole being seems centered around how her husband perceives her, their child, and their life together. When Armand rejects her, Désirée chooses to end her own life rather than start a new one at home with her loving parents. In so doing, she also chooses to end the life of her child, who has conspired unconsciously with her to bring shame to Armand's name.
Madame Valmonde sees Déesirée's presence in her family as an act of God. She loves her daughter and continues to do so even after she comes to believe that Déesirée is of mixed racial ancestry. In pleading with her daughter to come home, Madame Valmonde demonstrates the depth of her maternal love.
Themes and Characters
Chopin handles themes that were too threatening to be accepted in her own time. In "Desiree's Baby," she explores a woman's search for identity as she examines her sense of place in a time in history when women, like blacks, had yet to gain the rights and privileges awarded to white men. Desiree appears to have no identity of her own; that becomes clear at the beginning of the story. She is a foundling, belonging to no one. She takes on the identity of the Valmondes when they adopt her into their family, and she takes on the identity of Armand Aubigny when she becomes his wife.
When Desiree captures the attention of Armand Aubigny, he falls in love "as if struck by a pistol shot." This metaphorically fatal attraction is inextricably connected to her physical, sexual appearance. Armand Aubigny is capable of passion but not true love. Armand lives in a world where ownership determines social structure and women, like land and slaves, are possessions. Chopin forces us to examine whether it is possible for a young woman to have her own sense of identity in these circumstances. Desiree, a foundling, knows nothing of her past; she assumes the identity of those who care for her. Slaves were given the last names of their masters, and masters had sex with their slaves and fathered a...
(The entire section is 1,475 words.)