Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 417 words.)