Désirée's Baby Analysis

  • The ending of "Désirée's Baby" underscores the hypocrisy, arbitrariness, and injustice of racism. Chopin foreshadows the revelation that Armand is the one with Black ancestry through character descriptions: Armand is described as "dark" and violent, whereas Désirée is always shown wearing white lace and soft cloth.
  • The story is interspersed with French phrases, as is common in the Louisiana bayou, where interactions with French traders bolstered the local Cajun and Creole communities. The French linguistic influences help provide a stronger sense of time and place while also characterizing the sense of superiority the White landowners draw from their aristocratic French roots.

Analysis

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Kate Chopin’s complex story “Désirée’s Baby” deals with interlocking issues of race, gender, class, and power, especially as they existed in the antebellum American South—but with a relevance to today’s world that is striking and undeniable.

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In addition to being a work about racial divisions and conflict, “Désirée’s Baby” is a tale concerning a woman alone, much like the protagonists of Chopin’s The Awakening and “The Story of an Hour.” Désirée’s aloneness is emphasized by the fact of her being an orphan and foundling. The Valmondé family adopted her, but her position is still an anomalous and uncertain one. Monsieur Valmondé, a “practical” man, wants to find out Désirée’s origins before his future son-in-law, Armand, orders the corbeille (the basket of clothing and accessories that serve as a woman’s dowry). Yet the families go ahead with the wedding between Désirée and Armand despite her uncertain background, because Armand is said to be madly in love with Désirée.

Yet once Désirée has married Armand and given birth to their child, she still seems curiously alone on the Aubigny estate. Madame Valmondé comes to visit her and believes that something is “wrong” with the baby, but Désirée has not yet noticed, and she assures her foster mother that the baby is so strong and healthy that Armand can hear his crying “as far away as La Blanche’s cabin.”

At this point, even before the story’s central conflict has occurred, an underlying problem in Southern society is laid bare. What is Armand doing at La Blanche’s cabin? La Blanche, an enslaved woman, appears to be of mixed Black and white descent (as her name, which means “the white woman,” indicates). The open secret of so-called “miscegenation”—or sexual relationships between those of different races, which often occurred within the edifice of slavery—is revealed in that one offhand remark. But in Désirée’s status as a woman, she is powerless to do anything about it. Her whole attitude is one of denial, even as she remarks that Armand’s character has become so softened since their marriage and the birth of their baby that he is no longer inclined to “punish” those he enslaves for their infractions, whatever he may perceive those to be.

Given its content, the atmosphere of the story is ironically placid and pastoral. For English-speaking readers, there is also something slightly exotic about it, given that the characters are of French ancestry and presumably speak French throughout the story. (As the narrator remarks, “French was the language spoken at Valmondé in those days.”) But there is really little difference, materially, between the Louisiana of the story’s setting and other states in the antebellum South, where the slaveholding population was more likely to be Anglo-Saxon.

Désirée herself is presumed to have been brought from Texas to Louisiana, which lends an additional layer of mystery to her background; while she could be the child of English settlers, she could also be of Hispanic descent. She describes her skin as “fair,” but Armand claims it’s no fairer than that of the mixed-race...

(The entire section contains 1075 words.)

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