woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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What is the significance of Désirée's response to Armand's claim that she is not white?

"It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair," seizing his wrist. "Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand," she laughed hysterically.

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The significance of Désirée's response to Armand's belief that she is not white is that her physical features—skin color, hair color, and eye color—are her only proof of being white. She cannot point to any lineage as proof because she was a foundling left at the pillar of the gateway at the Valmondés' home. So she has no further evidence since she does not know her parents' names or race. Désirée's hysterical state demonstrates her fear that she cannot prove she is white, as well as her fear that she may possibly have African blood in her.

Désirée may also recall that her adoptive father, Monsieur Valmondé, "wanted things considered," such as "the girl's obscure origin," before Armand married her. But at the time, Armand felt that her origin did not matter, nor did it matter that she was virtually "nameless." But now that the baby does not appear to be white, Armand Aubigny, whose mother lived and died in France, and his white father assume that Désirée must be responsible for the baby's mixed blood. The tragic irony is the truth that Armand learns after the disappearance of Désirée and her baby. After he has destroyed all items that are reminders of Désirée and the child, Armand throws letters written by Désirée into the fire. But stuck in the back of the drawer from which the other letters have come is a remnant of an old letter to his father. Armand unfolds it and reads the words his mother has written. "...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.”

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In Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby," race, origin, and social status play significant roles. Before Desiree marries Armand, her race had never been questioned even with her mysterious appearance as a baby at the Valmondes's estate. In fact, her adoptive father, Monsieur Valmonde is more concerned about Desiree's "obscure origin" and what that means for her social status when Armand first demonstrates an interest in marrying her. Valmonde knows that for, someone such as Armand, name and class are everything, but impulsive Armand argues that he does not care, even when

reminded that [Desiree] was nameless. What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?

Armand's blase attitude toward Desiree's origin before the birth of their son creates a false sense of comfort for Desiree. Admittedly, she does notice her new husband's cruel treatment of the slaves on his plantation but chooses to overlook it at first. After the baby's birth and Armand's growing detachment from Desiree and the baby because of his skin tone, Armand eventually "accuses" Desiree of not being white. He knows that no one can dispute his claim because of his wife's unknown biological roots. However, when he confronts Desiree about her race and she places her hand next to his to show how much lighter her skin is than his, she ironically and subconsciously identifies what Armand is most afraid of: the truth that he is the one who is biracial and that others will find out what his roots really are.

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