woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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What are Armand's motivations, background, and choices at the end of "Désirée's Baby"? Does he have any redeeming qualities?

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Armand is the owner of the Louisiana plantation called L'Abri. He is very wealthy and owns many slaves. He was born in France, but his father brought him back to the plantation as a child. It is unclear whether he saw much of his mother, who never came to the United States. At the end we learn that Armand's mother was of mixed race; it appears that Armand does not know until the end of the story that he has black ancestry. 

As to his redeeming qualities, when he first fell in love with Desiree, he was romantic and apparently giving, for he did not mind bestowing his wealth upon her, even though she had uncertain parentage, having been a foundling. He lavishes the best material goods on Desiree and the baby. Later, the nicest thing we learn about him is that he stops beating his slaves after the birth of Desiree's baby, presumably because he is so pleased to be a father. 

Armand's unpleasant character qualities far outweigh his positive attributes. Desiree's mother feels a pall over L'Abri because of the harshness with which Armand rules it. Armand beats his slaves, and it is implied that he may have fathered at least one child from a slave, La Blanche. When he notices that Desiree's baby is displaying physical signs of having black heritage, he rejects Desiree and the child. First he gives them the silent treatment, and when Desiree approaches him, he is cruel to her, accusing her of being black. This shows his racism. When she asks him if she should leave, he says, "Yes, I want you to go." He subsequently destroys all material items related to his wife and baby, showing a cruel, uncaring side. 

As to what motivates him, it appears that social standing is what he cares most about. He assumes he is marrying beneath himself because Desiree doesn't have his social standing, showing he values status more than character. He buys the best material goods for his wife and child, but that may be more by way of showing off his status rather than from true generosity. When the "far-off neighbors" start coming and Armand rejects Desiree and the baby, we suspect he has yielded to the influence of other important members of society who would not accept him if he were married to a black woman. Finally, his dismissal of Desiree and his child to an unknown fate and his burning of all the things that he had given them shows that he cares more about what society thinks about him than about his wife and child. His obligations as a husband and father and his previous love for Desiree and excitement about the baby do not influence him at all.

He has a definite choice at the end of the story. He can embrace Desiree and the baby despite (what he thinks is) their racial heritage, or he can yield to his own and his society's racism. He chooses the latter. The irony that occurs at the end is that he himself is the one with black heritage, and he cannot so easily dismiss that fact as he could dismiss his wife and child. 

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