woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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Discussion Topic

Main themes and discussion points in "Désirée's Baby."


The main themes in "Désirée's Baby" include racism, identity, and the destructive power of prejudice. The story examines the impact of racial purity on personal relationships and societal status, highlighting the tragic consequences of racial discrimination. It also explores identity through Désirée's ambiguous heritage and Armand's ultimate discovery of his own ancestry.

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What is the main idea of "Désirée's Baby"?

The main idea of a short story is not the story's plot or even its key themes. Rather, the main idea is the overarching thing the reader is supposed to understand from the story: the moral to take away, as it were. In this story, which has themes of love and racism and is set in the antebellum Deep South, the main idea revolves around racism and its destructive power.

It is debatable whether Armand was ever aware of the existence of the letter that reveals his Black heritage. It is entirely possible that he was aware but that his internalized racism filled him with such shame that he tried to deny this fact about himself, choosing instead to believe that Désirée, who was not from the same sort of family, was more likely to have had an element of Black blood in her.

What is definitely the case, however, is that racism is a powerful motivating force in this story. Armand externalizes his racism in the way he treats his "negroes," but he also internalizes it: he is ashamed to have a Black child, and he is ashamed to be in love with a woman who may be part Black herself—at least in his mind. Désirée, meanwhile, is so ashamed of having Black blood, as she feels she might, and heartbroken at her husband's rejection that she becomes suicidal and kills herself and her child by walking off into the bayou.

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What are two significant discussion points from "Désirée's Baby"?

The following two questions, based on the story, are good discussion questions. Each requires students to consider character behavior and the motivations for the behaviors.

  1. “Why do you think there was an ‘air of mystery among the blacks’ and frequent visitors to L'Abri about 3 months after Desiree's baby was born?”
  1. “Why was it assumed that Desiree was the reason her child was not white?”

Question #1 might prove interesting because it concerns the reactions of others (black and white) when they begin to notice the “coloring” of Desiree’s baby. Of course, “the blacks” are concerned about the consequences since they realize that a bi-racial baby will bring violent and brutal repercussions to anyone who might be accused of fathering Desiree’s child. The “frequent visitors” are local whites who have likely heard the rumors regarding the baby and have come to gain a first-hand view of the child.

 Question #2 is an excellent discussion question. Tangential discussion issues include adoption, child abandonment, race relations, and social and economic class systems. Although Desiree’s parents loved her dearly, her unknown ancestry leaves her heritage open to speculation. Unlike Armand, her parentage was entirely unknown. Naturally, then, when the baby appears to be bi-racial, everyone assumes that Desiree must have had black relations.

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