woman holding a baby walking out into the bayou

Désirée's Baby

by Kate Chopin

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Where is foreshadowing evident in "Désirée's Baby"?

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There are several examples of foreshadowing in the short story "Désirée's Baby." Some of these include the mysterious circumstances of Desiree's abandonment at the Valmondé plantation, the depressing state of the Aubigny mansion, and the reaction of Madam Valmondé when she first sees the baby.

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The short story "Desiree's Baby" by Kate Chopin tells of a little toddler girl who is left at the gate of a plantation and then is adopted by Monsieur and Madame Valmonde. A plantation owner named Armand Aubigny falls in love with her, marries her and takes her home, where in time she has a baby boy. Desiree's baby turns out to have dark skin, and when Armand notices he accuses her of having black ancestry and expresses his desire that she should leave. She and the baby walk into the bayou, where it is presumed that they die. Later, Chopin reveals that it is Armand that has an African American mother, and he probably knew this before he sent Desiree away.

With the literary device known as foreshadowing, the author gives hints or warnings of what is to come later in the story. There are numerous examples of foreshadowing in "Desiree's Baby," beginning with Desiree's mysterious appearance at the gate of the Valmonde plantation as a toddler. It is impossible to determine her ancestry, and so she could conceivably have African American predecessors.

More examples of foreshadowing are evident when Madame comes to the Aubigny mansion to visit Desiree and the baby. She finds it a "sad looking place," and Armand treats his black slaves strictly. This foreshadows that he will show no mercy later on, even to his own wife. When Madame Valmonde sees the baby, at first she thinks there is a mistake and it is the wrong one. She takes it over to the light and inspects it. This is a strong hint that there is something about the baby's appearance that is unusual. At one point, Desiree thinks of Armand's "dark, handsome face," which shows that he physically manifests the ancestry that he is hiding. This foreshadows the later revelation that he is part black.

All of these hints create a growing premonition in readers of the tragic ending of the tale.

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We learn early on that Desiree was a foundling, first spotted by Monsieur Valmonde "lying asleep in the shadow of the big stone pillar" before the entrance to their home. It is some eighteen years later when Armand Aubigny rides by and sees her there, leaning against that same "stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep." The fact that Desiree is found and is, later, fallen in love with in that same shadowed spot seems to foreshadow the darkness and sadness that will attend her in her married life. In fact, a shadow would have caused her skin to look darker than it really was—thus Armand's suspicions of her being of mixed race. However, just as the shadow would have created that illusion of dark skin when it did not really exist, Armand will later accuse Desiree of possessing a racially mixed ancestry when it does not exist; it is his own ancestry which includes people of color.

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One of the first indications that this story will not end happily occurs when Madame Valmonde arrives at L'Abri (French for "shelter"), the estate where Desiree and Armand live:

Madame Valmonde "shuddered at the first sight of it....It was a sad looking place...The roof came down steep and black like a cowl, reaching out beyond the wide galleries that encircled the yellow stuccoed house. Big, solemn oaks grew close to it, and their thick-leaved, far-reaching branches shadowed it like a pall."  

The imagery in this quote reveals the darkness of a place that is ironically called a shelter, and Madame Valmonde mentions the "pall" that is cast over the house, that being a term related to death.  

Another clue that things are amiss in the story next occurs when Madame Valmonde first sees the new baby, when the boy is one month old:

Madame Valmondé had never removed her eyes from the child. She lifted it and walked with it over to the window that was lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then looked as searchingly at Zandrine, whose face was turned to gaze across the fields.

While Madame Valmonde does not say anything aloud, she first looks at the baby then at the quadroon nurse, Zandrine, "searchingly."  While it does not explicitely state it in the story, Zandrine is considered of mixed race, which was looked down upon in this era.  So, Madame Valmonde seems to be questioning the shade of her grandson's skin, a problem that comes to a head later in the story.  

The nature of skin color is another hint to the end of the story.  When Armand suddenly changes his demeanor as if "the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him," it is because the baby's skin color has darkened, and because Desiree does not know of her past, Armand blames her.  However, Desiree points out, "'Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand.'"  This is another clue that in fact, Armand's family background is actually to blame instead of Desiree's.  

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How is foreshadowing used in "Désirée's Baby"?

Woven throughout this short story are clues that Désirée's union will not prove ultimately happy and that her giving birth reveals an unexpected truth.

Though Désirée has fallen wholeheartedly in love with her husband, it is noted that he has an "imperious and exacting nature." Before marriage, Armand was known as a fierce slave owner; yet the birth of this baby has seemingly softened his heart toward his slaves, and Désirée comments that he "hasn't punished one of them ... since baby is born." This characterizes Armand as a vindictive man—at least, previously.

When her adoptive mother comes to visit, Désirée reflects, "I'm so happy; it frightens me." Désirée conveys a sense of fear regarding her own happiness, seemingly afraid that it will all be taken away from her.

When Désirée's mother looks at the baby, she is clearly taken aback by his physical appearance. She scans the baby "narrowly" and exclaims, "this is not the baby!" While Désirée believes her mother is astounded by her son's growth, her mother's comments that the child has "changed" as she continues to inspect him indicate that there is more to her observations.

Shortly thereafter, Désirée recalls the the way the "dark, handsome" face of her husband smiles now that he is a father. The infant, who displays features that are too dark to be considered white, eventually creates much suspicion about Désirée's unknown background. While Armand quickly believes that Désirée is Black, he fails to see the truth in his own appearance and how that truth is reflected in his son.

Armand's eventual rejection of Désirée and her child and their subsequent disappearance are also foreshadowed by her mother's reaction upon arriving at her home: "When she reached L'Abri she shuddered at the first sight of it, as she always did. It was a sad looking place." This does not reflect a loving and peaceful setting, but one filled with ominous dread.

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