woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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What meanings do the names Désirée, La Blanche, and L'Abri hold in the story?

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In French, the name, Desiree, means desired one, and Desiree is, in many ways, the desired one of the story. When she is found, as a baby, by Monsieur Valmonde at the entrance to his home, she is claimed by Madame Valmonde as her own. She believes "Desiree had been sent to her by a beneficent Providence to bet the child of her affection, seeing that she was without a child of the flesh." It seems that she was even named Desiree because a child had been so desired by the Valmondes. The little girl grew up to be kind, lovely, and beautiful, and everyone adored her.

Armand Aubigny seemed to fall in love with her in the same way; it was as if he'd been "struck by a pistol shot." In fact, he seemed to love Desiree so much that he didn't care if her background was unknown. Perhaps, even, her unknown background made her even more desirable to him: not only is she beautiful and lovely, but with an obscure origin, any child of theirs who didn't look like white could be attributed to Desiree's background and not Armand's. Thus, not only was Desiree desired for her beauty and personality but also for her unknown history which could be used to shield Armand's own origins, if necessary.

La Blanche is one of the slaves on Armand's plantation.  Because she is so fair-skinned, she is most likely the product of rape between a black (or part-black) female slave and a white master, and her name means the white one, referring to her skin tone. It seems possible that Armand is actually raping her. Desiree tells her mother that "'Armand heard [the baby crying] the other day as far away as La Blanche's cabin.'" But what reason would he have to be in a slave woman's cabin? I can think of only one. Often, fair-skinned slaves were thought to be more desirable than darker-skinned ones to white masters, and it was not an uncommon practice for masters to rape their slaves.

If this is true, and it's not possible to know for sure, then this casts more doubt on Armand's character. He's already a slave-owner, which makes him morally repugnant. If he is having sex with a slave, then he is a rapist. If he's having sex with anyone, then he is cheating on his wife, a wife that he seemed to desire so greatly. Can we put it past such a man to marry a woman whose unknown heritage could protect his own? I don't think so.

Further, the name of his plantation, L'Abri, means the shelter, and it certainly is a shelter for Armand, if not Desiree. His family property and name, one of "the oldest and proudest in Louisiana," protects him from suspicion about his race despite his "dark . . . face." No one questions Armand's heritage as a result of his shelter, his family's plantation and name, and so its name seems quite appropriate.

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The names in the story "Desiree's Baby" have interesting meanings in the story, especially the names Desiree, La Blanch, and L'Abri. All three are French names, relating to the French ancestry of Armand. France is a place where the racial discrimination that existed in Louisiana was not as severe. This accounts for the fact that Armand's mother, who was of mixed race, remained in France rather than coming to live in Louisiana on the plantation. 

Desiree means "desire." When Armand fell in love with Desiree, he was infatuated to the extent that her unknown family heritage was not a concern. However, in an alternate interpretation of the story, one where Armand has already read his mother's letter long before the bonfire scene, we could imagine that Desiree represents Armand's "desire" to keep his own African heritage hidden. By marrying a woman whose parentage was a mystery, if their offspring showed signs of Armand's African heritage coming through, he would have an excuse for the baby's looks and would not have to reveal his own mixed blood. (To support this interpretation, note that the story never says that when Armand finds his mother's letter among Desiree's letters that he has never read it before.)

"La Blanche" means "the white one." The name is somewhat ironic in that La Blanche is called "yellow" in the story, meaning she was of mixed African and Caucasian blood. She was possibly a quadroon (1/4 black) or an octaroon (1/8 black). The name stands for the argument within the story about who is white, Desiree or Armand. When their baby begins showing features consistent with African heritage, Armand insists that those qualities have been passed on to the child through Desiree, but at the end of the story we learn that Armand's mother was partially black. We have no way of knowing whether Desiree had any African heritage because she was a foundling, but she is definitely lighter complected than is Armand.

"L'Abri" means "shelter." It is the name of Armand's plantation. It, too, is ironic in that Armand should have been the one to provide shelter and security for Desiree and their son. However, when he has reason to believe Desiree is part black, he sends her away from his "shelter." 

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