woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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Discussion Topic

The author's intention and use of irony in "Désirée's Baby."

Summary:

In "Désirée's Baby," the author's intention is to highlight the destructive nature of racism and societal prejudices. Irony is used effectively, as Désirée's husband, Armand, who condemns her for her supposed mixed heritage, ultimately discovers that he is the one with African ancestry. This twist underscores the story's critique of racial assumptions and hypocrisy.

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What is the author's intention in "Désirée's Baby"?

One of Kate Chopin’s goals in writing the short story “Desiree's Baby” was to show the damaging effect that racism has on people. Chopin does this through severe irony.

Chopin sets up the character of Armand, husband to Désirée and father of their child, to be a harsh master. Désirée tells her adopted mother, “he hasn't punished one of them—not one of them—since baby is born.” This is meant to show how his love of the baby has changed his harsh demeanor to one of kindness.

All, however, is not meant to stay peaceful as Chopin has Désirée notice that the baby has similar characteristics to a slave boy. When Désirée asks Armand what it means, he claims, “the child is not white; it means that you are not white.” Armand's attitude immediately changes as Chopin writes:  

“He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife's soul. Moreover he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name.”

Armand passes the rage and betrayal he feels onto Désirée and the child. This leads Désirée to drown herself and the baby rather than to feel the pain of rejection from her one true love.

The death of Désirée and the child would make this a most tragic story but Chopin is not finished. She shows the truth of Armand and Désirée’s situation. It was not Désirée who was not white but Armand. This tragic secret is revealed in his mother’s letter to his father.

“I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”

It is Armand’s prejudices that lead to the death of his innocent wife and child.

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What is the irony in "Désirée's Baby"?

The sad irony in this story is that at the end of the story, Désirée walks off into the bayou with her child—presumably intending to kill both herself and her baby because of her shame over a taint of "slavery" in her bloodline that actually is not there at all and because of her husband's rejection of her because of it. At the end of the story, when Armand is burning Désirée's belongings and letters to him, Armand reads a letter that reveals to the reader that the Black heritage was on his own side, not Désirée's.

Of course, if Armand had never seen this letter before (it is not clear at what point he learned of its existence), his assumption that their son's Black traits came from Désirée may have been understandable, though not excusable. She, after all, was a foundling, left by a party of traveling Texans, whereas he was part of a grand family and was initially raised in Paris. If his assumption was based on the idea that Blackness is connected with poverty and low birth, there is further irony here, as it is Armand himself, despite his wealth and high birth, who brought the so-called taint of Blackness into his own child.

We could also find further irony in the fact that Armand, who is so racist and cruel to his slaves, is implied to be having a sexual relationship with La Blanche.

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