Themes and Meanings
Kate Chopin’s “La Belle Zoraïde” deals perceptively and sensitively with racism. Zoraïde’s mistress believes she is acting in the younger woman’s best interest when she forbids her to marry Mézor. Madame Delarivière has raised Zoraïde so that she possesses the elegant and refined manners so necessary to fit into cultivated society. It is her wish that her goddaughter marry someone who can appreciate these qualities. In her opinion, Mézor, who works barefooted in a sugarcane field, would not bring honor to her beautiful Zoraïde, or, consequently, to herself. What Chopin subtly reveals through Madame Delarivière’s displeasure with Zoraïde’s passion for Mézor is that the white woman, despite her claims to want only the best for the beautiful girl, is actually insensitive and cruel. She does not have Zoraïde’s welfare in mind when she insists that Dr. Langlè sell Mézor; she is motivated by her own selfish desire and need to control her goddaughter’s future.
Chopin further dramatizes Madame Delarivière’s callousness when the white woman schemes to deprive Zoraïde of her child. Madame Delarivière, bitterly resentful of her slave’s melancholy and sorrowful disposition, believes that if Zoraïde thinks her child is dead, she will return to her former, light-hearted, charming self. By believing this, Madame Delarivière severely underestimates Zoraïde’s natural maternal instincts, reinforcing Chopin’s main point. The white woman, who thinks of herself as a kind, charitable, and benevolent mistress, is really incapable of seeing Zoraïde as anything more than a possession. It never occurs to her how deeply the loss of the child will affect Zoraïde because Madame Delarivière has never thought of Zoraïde as anything more than her plaything. When Madame Delarivière’s scheme does not produce its desired effect, Chopin seems to be further suggesting how such misguided and conceited attitudes as those of Madame Delarivière are condescending, dismissive, and dangerous to those who share Zoraïde’s position.
Chopin concludes her condemnation of the society represented by Madame Delarivière with Madame Delise’s inability at the end of Manna-Loulou’s tale to sympathize with Zoraïde. She can think only of the child and how unlucky she believes it was to have ever been born. Her shallow response to Zoraïde’s story again reinforces Chopin’s indictment of the white women’s insensitivity to their female slaves.