Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Chopin has been described as a local colorist, and certainly most of her stories are set in a particular geographical area that she examines socially and physically. Unlike such local colorists as Sarah Orne Jewett and George Washington Cabel, though, Chopin did not write to preserve the past, nor did she focus on the conflict of past and present that characterizes the typical local color story. Further, her work shows no nostalgia for a previous era. Only five of her stories lack a contemporary setting, and “Désirée’s Baby” demonstrates no fondness for the antebellum period.

The carefully defined setting is, rather, a laboratory. What happens when one puts certain characters in a particular world? Like a scientist, Chopin observed their reactions and reported her results without obvious emotion. Significantly, she called this story “Désirée’s Baby,” not “Désirée,” as though seeking to deflect sympathy from the central character. Also, the baby is the crucial ingredient in this experiment: Give Armand and Désirée a child of color and then watch how they behave.

They behave badly, each blaming the other. Neither knows the truth, but because Armand is the more powerful, Désirée is disgraced and banished. Chopin does not moralize; she merely reports. That clinical detachment makes the final lines all the more forceful, as the reader grasps the enormity of Armand’s mistake.