Désirée's Baby Characters
The main characters in “Désirée's Baby” are Désirée Valmondé Aubigny, Armand Aubigny, and Madame and Monsieur Valmondé.
- Désirée Valmonde Aubigny was found and adopted by the Valmondés as an infant. She disappears with her child after her husband, Armand, accuses her of being of Black descent.
- Armand Aubigny is Désirée's husband. His parents hid the fact that his mother is of Black ancestry, leading him to falsely accuse Désirée of being partly Black and causing their child to appear mixed-race
- Madame and Monsieur Valmondé are Désirée’s foster parents.
Last Updated on July 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1033
Désirée Valmondé Aubigny
Because Désirée was a foundling, a baby abandoned and then adopted by others, nothing about her background is really known. People presume that she was brought by people from Texas who crossed in their covered wagon on a ferry into Louisiana. She was raised by Madame and Monsieur Valmondé after being found on their plantation.
Except for the fact that Désirée grows up to be a beautiful young woman and that she initially enjoys the privileges of being a plantation owner’s wife, little is revealed about her character. When the question of race is brought up, she refuses to believe that she herself might be partially Black, though she presumably knows that she is not the Valmondés’ biological child. Désirée bases her assumption that she is white on her skin color, but Armand retorts that her skin is no lighter than that of La Blanche, a mixed-race enslaved woman on his plantation.
Madame Valmondé invites Désirée to return home with her baby, and Armand tells Désirée that she should go. Instead, however, Désirée walks off with her baby into the bayou. No indication is given as to what will happen to her. It appears that her humiliation over being accused of having Black ancestry is so great that she cannot continue to associate with the white gentry with whom she has grown up; or, conversely, perhaps her pride is too great to allow these people to treat her with pity now that the assumption is that she is partially Black.
At no point does Désirée imply that Armand may actually be the one from whom the baby’s dark looks are inherited, though this is exactly what is revealed at the end of the story. That this suggestion is never made shows both the powerlessness of a woman at the time and the fact that the whole antebellum white population was simply in denial about the ubiquitous nature of mixed-race sexual relationships in the Old South.
Armand is the owner of L’Abri, a plantation that borders the Valmondés’ property. Unlike his easygoing father, Armand is harsh and cruel to the people enslaved at L’Abri, and he is described as “imperious and exacting.” He is in love with Désirée at first, but he seems to love her more as a possession or a prize than as a person. His initial pride in their baby is typical of the patriarchal culture of the time, stemming chiefly from the fact that the baby is a boy.
Armand’s attitude toward Désirée and the softer behavior he had temporarily shown to those he enslaves both abruptly change when the baby is no longer perceived as white. Though Armand has presumably loved Désirée, and though she has borne his child, he shows not the slightest empathy and tells her to leave, not knowing or caring what will become of her.
The ultimate hypocrisy is shown by Armand at the close of the story, when he reads the letter revealing that he is the one with Black ancestry, as his mother admitted to his father. Armand shows no sign of being moved to regret—or, indeed, any other emotion—by this discovery. Instead, he simply burns the letter, along with all remnants of Désirée and their baby.
Madame Valmondé is Désirée’s foster mother. Kind and loving, she has no biological children of her own and was happy to accept Désirée as her own daughter. Madame Valmondé seems to be the first to recognize that there is something different about Désirée’s baby: on her first visit in four weeks, she exclaims, “This is not the baby!” on seeing the child.
When Désirée writes to say that Armand has told her she is not white, Madame Valmondé doesn’t reject her, as Armand has done. Instead, she invites both Désirée and her baby home, “back to your mother who loves you.” Désirée, however, does not accept her foster mother’s offer.
Monsieur Valmondé, Désirée’s foster father, originally found her abandoned and asleep next to a stone pillar on his estate. Little is seen of him except in a short scene in which he becomes “practical” and tries to discuss her unknown background with Armand. Ironically, Armand dismisses Monsieur Valmondé’s concerns about Désirée’s origins, insisting that his own name is enough for her.
Zandrine is an enslaved woman on Armand’s plantation. She wears a turban, which attests to the preservation of some indigenous African customs among enslaved peoples in Louisiana.
La Blanche is an enslaved woman on Armand’s plantation, and her name (which translates to “the white woman”) indicates that she is of both Black and white descent. When Désirée insists that her own skin is light, Armand counters that it’s no lighter than La Blanche’s. Though he intends this example to show that Désirée is definitively not white, it may do more to highlight the arbitrary nature of race designations. Given that Armand evidently frequents La Blanche’s cabin (Désirée herself knows this, as she tells Madame Valmondé that Armand can hear the baby crying all the way from there), it’s possible that the two are in a sexual relationship—and because La Blanche is enslaved, it is impossible that such a relationship could be fully consensual.
Monsieur Aubigny, Armand’s late father, does not appear in the story directly. He was easygoing and “indulgent,” and it seems that he—unlike his son—treated the enslaved people on his plantation relatively well.
Madame Aubigny, Armand’s mother, also does not appear in the action of the story; she died in Paris when Armand was eight years old. It is she, as she once revealed in a letter to her husband, who has African ancestry, and she “thank[ed] God” that (as she erroneously believed) Armand would never know about it.