illustrated portrait of American author Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin

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How do women in "Désirée's Baby" and "The Story of an Hour" suffer from their time's prejudice?

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Kate Chopin is definitely immensely skilled at depicting the plight of women in her world and the various ways in which they are disadvantaged, ignored and disempowered. In "The Story of an Hour," the brief moment of liberation that Mrs. Mallard enjoys is depicted to us in all of its joy. Having accepted that her husband has died, Mrs. Mallard is intoxicated by the freedom that she now has, being a single woman. Note how the text describes her feelings:

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of ilumination.

Thus we can see how Mrs. Mallard has suffered. Even though her husband is loving, the way that marriage was viewed and women's role within marriage at the time is exposed. It is described as a form of entrapment where she has to "bend her will" to that of her husband. She regards this as a "crime" and clearly, in this moment of epiphany, realises how little she has actually been able to live being married in her society.

In "Desiree's Baby" the form of prejudice is more notable, perhaps. Noticing the dark complexion of their child, Armand automatically assumes that this form of racial "weakness" comes from his wife, even though, as Desiree herself says, this seems very unlikely:

"It means," he answered lightly, "that the child is not white; it means that you are not white."

A quick conception of all that this accusation meant for her, nerved her with unwonted courage to deny it. "It is a lie--it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are grey. Armand, you know they are grey. And my skin is fair," seizing his wrist. "Look at my hand--whiter than yours, Armand," she laughed hysterically.

However, because of gender stereotypes and racial prejudice, Armand categorically blames his wife for the "shame" of her ancestry, and as a result, she commits suicide. It is immensely ironic and incredibly tragic therefore that at the end of the tale Armand discovers that his mother was black, and Desiree was right all along.

Thus both female characters are shown to suffer through the gender stereotypes and roles of women in their time and society. These works expose a world in which women are definitely depicted as "the weaker sex" and lesser citizens compared to men, and yet the texts argue passionately for equality.

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