La Belle Zoraïde

by Kate Chopin

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

This story begins with an old enslaved woman, Manna Loulou, preparing to tell a story to her white mistress in order to help the woman fall asleep. As is typical of Kate Chopin's stories, this story is set in Creole Louisiana. The two are in the heat of the bayou, and Manna Loulou begins fanning Madame Delisle. Manna Loulou decides to tell her mistress the true story about a beautiful, mixed-race slave called la belle Zoraïde. Zoraïde was a favorite of her mistress and godmother, Madame Delarivière, and her mistress never had her complete labor any more intensive than sewing a “fine” seam. Madame hoped and planned for Zoraïde to marry a “well-bred” slave belonging to Doctor Langlé. She tells Zoraïde she will throw her a beautiful wedding at the Cathedral. However, Zoraïde does not like M'sieur Ambroise, the doctor's slave, because she thinks that he is cruel and false as a snake. For this reason, Zoraïde continues to tell her mistress that she is not ready to marry and is too happy to leave her mistress's side just yet.

Truthfully, though, Zoraïde is in love with another of the doctor's slaves, a dark-skinned field hand named Mézor. His eyes, unlike Ambroise's, can be fierce, but only look with kindness upon her, and seem to be lit from within. The two seemed to fall in love almost instantly. Zoraïde tells her mistress that she wants to marry Mézor, and her mistress becomes "speechless with rage" at Zoraïde's insolence and lack of gratitude. Zoraïde argues that because she is not white, it should not matter which Black man she wants to marry. Madame Delarivière forbids Zoraïde from seeing Mézor, but the lovers continue to meet and, soon, Zoraïde becomes pregnant. When Madame Delarivière finds out, she compels the doctor, who is in love with her, to sell Mézor to a slave-owner in another state. Zoraïde comforts herself with the knowledge of the baby she will soon have, but when the baby is born, Madame Delarivière orders that she be told that her baby has died. In actuality, the baby has been sent to Madame’s plantation up the coast.

Rather than restore Zoraïde to the happy young woman she once was, Madame Delarivière's plan only makes the young woman more miserable and sad. It is her hope that Zoraïde will become the bright and beautiful servant she once was. Instead, Zoraïde mourns her baby nonstop. One day, Zoraïde is found treating a small bundle of rags as her baby, and it becomes clear that she is now "demented" as a result of her pain. This goes on for a few years, and, in her guilt and sorrow, Madame Delarivière sends for the child to be returned to Zoraïde. However, Zoraïde thinks the small bundle is her baby and will not accept the actual toddling child as her own, and so the child is sent away once more. In the end, Manna Loulou's mistress says that she feels most sorry for the little girl, who will never know the love of either her mother or her father.

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