woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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What lesson can be learned from the story "Désirée's Baby"?

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Another lesson we can learn from this story is that we sometimes tend to think we are more tolerant or accepting than we actually are.

Armand is an example of someone who appears to be very accepting of Desiree's "obscure origin."  However, he is seemingly only thinking about her lack of a family name and not considering her possibly mixed bloodline. He is not concerned about her being adopted because he loves her so much, and in that timeframe when name was so important to families and bloodlines, he is showing an acceptance that is uncommon. However, it does not occur to him to question her ethnic background because she appears to be white.

It is not until their child shows the traits of African American heritage that he blames this on Desiree's bloodline and his intolerance toward her is shown. He has always been intolerant towards Blacks, as we see in the way he treats his slaves. But, his ability to "accept" his wife and her questionable heritage goes out the door as soon as his child exhibits the traits of "the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.” 

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I think this short story teaches how destructive prejudice can be. Armand was deeply in love with Desiree, telling her that her uncertain ethinic roots did not make any difference to him. Ah, but he did not consider that she might have some Black blood in her. When their baby is born and the child is obviously of mixed race, he automatically assumes that it is from HER side, not his. After all, he is a blueblood, an aristocrat. His racial prejudices are so strong and his pridefulness in his own bloodlines so deep, that he lets the child, the symbol of race, destroy what is beautiful, his love for Desiree.

The great irony of the story is that the mixed race comes from HIS family, not hers. So in the end, he loses everything; his wife, his baby and his cultural pride.

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What is the social message that "Désirée's Baby" portrays?

The overwhelming force of this great story is to present the concept of racism as being something that is completely man made, and therefore only having the power that men ascribe to it. Of course, this message is conveyed through the use of grim and bitter irony. Let us remember that throughout the story Armand is supremely confident of the purity of his bloodline. In contrast to Desiree's obscure origin, Armand is said to emerge from "one of the oldest and proudest" families of Louisiana. Thus it is that when his child begins to display a darker skin colour, Armand automatically assumes that this "fault" comes from Desiree's unknown background and not his own. The fact that his child, and by extension, his wife, are no longer considered "white" causes him to not love Desiree anymore, "because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name." His rejection of his wife and child results in their death, which leads to his own discovery of his mixed background. When he discovers that the "fault" came from him rather than his wife, Chopin makes it clear that the concept of race and the racism that emerges from such ideas, are a creation of humans alone rather than existing independently as given facts or realities of life and the universe. The colour of our skin only has as much value and importance as we choose to give it. This is the social message that this story presents us with.

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