At a Glance

  • Race and racism are at the heart of "Désirée's Baby." Désirée lives in the South during the time of slavery. At that time, having even a drop of African American blood from a distant ancestor made one black. When Désirée's baby is born dark-skinned, the well-pedigreed Armand accuses Désirée of being black, which he thinks possible because of her unknown family history. In fact, Armand is black—a fact his mother his from him. That something as simple as the color of a baby's skin ruins Désirée's life indicates just how bad racism was in the South.
  • Motherhood is another important theme in "Désirée's Baby." Madame Valmonde, being unable to produce children of her own, becomes fiercely attached to Désirée, her adopted daughter. Désirée learns how to be a mother from Madame Valmonde. Though upset by the implications of her baby's color, she never appears to stop loving the child.

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kate Chopin clearly sympathizes with the plight of people of mixed blood and points out the evils of a slave system that at once creates and condemns miscegenation. Her chief concern, however, is not with the South’s “peculiar institution,” a topic she rarely treated in her fiction. Rather, she concerns herself with her characters’ inner lives.

Certainly these lives confront external constraints. Désirée and Armand live in a world that values racial purity. To be black is to be condemned to a life of subservience; to be white is to inherit mastery. No matter how beautiful or how fair one may be, blood rules. Armand spends much time in the cottage of a slave named La Blanche, whose name suggests her skin color. Still, she is of mixed race, so she is a slave, and the quadroon boy who fans Désirée’s baby is probably the son of Armand and La Blanche. The most such a woman can hope for is to be treated well by her master and to be his concubine because she will never be his wife. Among Creoles, who pride themselves not only on their racial purity but also on their French heritage, the proper pedigree is especially important.

The characters’ world is also one in which women, like blacks, are second-class citizens. Women have certain fixed roles—daughter, wife, mother. Désirée’s world is small, moving between the neighboring plantations of her foster parents and her husband. She passes her days inside, and Armand is free to come...

(The entire section is 532 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Race and Racism
The themes of race and racism are integral to ‘‘Désirée's Baby,’’ for prevailing ideas of Chopin's...

(The entire section is 911 words.)