Désirée´s Baby is a short story written by Kate Chopin. It is set in 19th century Louisiana. The story starts with Madame Valmondé going to visit Désirée and her baby. She thinks back on her memories of Désirée as a baby:
“It made her laugh to think of Désirée with a baby.
more than a baby herself.”
This quote tells us two things. The first is that Madame Valmondé must have known Désirée as a child and is either a close family friend of even a member of the family herself. The second thing is that Désirée is young. The word “baby” could either mean childlike or physically young. Désirée seemed to be a normal child and had had a normal childhood. The third paragraph tells us more about Désirée´s background:
She had been abandoned at a very young age outside Madame Valmondé´s home. We can also tell from paragraph five that
“She was nameless.”
“What did it matter about a name when he could give
her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?”
“Young Aubigny´s rule was a strict one, too, and under
Armand must have treated them very harshly and made them unhappy. His home is described as being sad looking and quite dreary.
The second paragraph of page 52 gives the reader a description of the type of home Armand owns. There are muslins, a couch decorated with laces, there are also slaves. Madame Valmondé´s first reaction to the baby was one of shock and astonishment:
“This is not the baby!”
Theoretically this isn’t very significant because babies tend to grow very quickly and their outward appearance can change very fast. The eighth paragraph on this page gives us a hint at why Madame Valmondé was so startled when she first saw the baby.
“Madame Valmondé had never removed her eyes from the
child. She lifted it and walked with it over to the window
that was lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then
looked as searchingly at Zandrine, whose face was turned
to gaze across the fields.”
This is a very important point. Madame Valmondé has noticed something different about the baby. The fact that she didn´t take her eyes off the baby verifies this. She then takes the baby over to the window “that was lightest”. This could mean either that the room was a bit gloomy, like the rest of Armand´s home, or there was something about the boy that just didn´t look “right”. When Madame Valmondé looks over at the black slave, this gives us the biggest clue to what is different about the baby. Madame Valmondé must have seen a resemblance in the baby and Zandrine. The author deliberately doesn´t tell us that the baby is black. An air of mystery is created. Désirée clearly doesn´t notice any thing and thinks that her mother´s reaction is due to the child´s growth. She hasn´t noticed anything odd about the child. When you spend a lot of time with someone and you see them frequently, you don´t notice little differences in their appearance. But Madame Valmondé hadn´t seen Désirée and her baby for four weeks.
The next little section shows us what Armand´s reaction to the birth of his child were.
“he hasn´t punished one of them – not one of them –
since baby is born”
The birth of a child clearly has softened Armand and made him happier. Désirée also became happier because she loved her husband desperately and was happy when he was happy. But on page 53 line five a physical description of Armand is given.
“But Armand´s dark, handsome face had not been
disfigured by frowns since the day he fell in love
The word “dark” in this quote could mean either that he was always dismal or that his skin was dark. This becomes more apparent as we read on in the book. The second paragraph on this page suggests that something is wrong. The behaviour of blacks on the estate changes, there are unexpected visits from neighbours, Armand´s manner changes, he doesn´t look at his wife and he is frequently away from home. He starts to avoid his wife and child. In the third paragraph the truth is revealed. Désirée is sitting in her room one afternoon with her child. There is a quadroon child fanning the baby.
“She looked from her child to the boy who stood beside
him, and back again, over and over. ‘Ah!´ It was a cry
that she could not help; which she was not conscious
of having uttered.”
“look at our child. What does it mean? Tell me.”
He then immediately blames her for being black.
“It means that the child is not white; it means that
you are not white.”
The reason Désirée is blamed is because of her obscure origin. When Armand refers to the child as “the child” this shows that he does not associate himself with the baby and feels emotionally unattached, we assume this is because the baby is black, this shows his deep racism against black people.
Désirée and Armand then compare their skin colours.
“Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,”
he then says
“As white as La Blanche´s,”
this is very cruel. From what Désirée says about her hand being whiter than Armand´s we begin to suspect that maybe it isn’t Désirée who is black and it is Armand. It is very ironic. Armand is letting his proudness get in the way of his marriage. He refuses to believe that there is black blood in his family. It cant have come from him because he is white… isn’t he?
“Moreover he no longer loved her, because of the
unconscious injury she had brought upon his home
It was a great insult to think that he had black blood. As Désirée leaves, Armand ignores her. She is greatly saddened by this. In the last line of page 54 Désirée walks away
“under the live-oak branches”
“She did not take the broad, beaten road which
led to the far-off plantation of Valmondé. She
walked across a deserted field,”
The third paragraph on page 55 indirectly suggests that Désirée goes and commits suicide.
“She disappeared among the reeds and willows that
grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish
bayou; and she did not come back again.”
This is a very sad ending. The last four paragraphs are about Armand. A few weeks after Désirée leaves with the baby Armand burns all of their possessions. He tries to get rid of the memory of her and his son. He burns the baby´s cradle with all the extravagant furnishings and priceless clothes. He then burns Désirée´s expensive wedding dress and all of her clothes. The last thing to go was a bundle of letters that Désirée had written to Armand. The last paragraph reveals the truth. In the draw where Armand had kept his letters, there was the remains of a letter from his mother to his father.
“I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives
that our dear Armand will never know that his mother,
who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with
the brand of slavery.”
So it is in fact Armand who is black. To some extent I feel some sympathy for him even though it´s because of his own actions he loses his wife, his baby and then has to deal with his hatred of himself racially.
Désirée seems to have an emotional roller coaster in the story she goes from having “a glow that was happiness itself” to being “miserable enough to die”. Which shows another contrast in the story. The difference between Désirée that is soft and non-violent and just bottles things up inside, and Armand who will act upon what he feels regardless of what anyone thinks.
Désirée then seems to sink into madness, she is described as “hysterical” and when she goes to kill herself she obviously hasn´t prepared, for she isn´t not dressed for it (well who is dressed for killing themselves?) or thought about killing herself. She had reached the conviction that she must kill without much thought.
Armand rejects the baby because he feels hurt or betrayed by the it, and the baby, through no fault of its own, hurt him and humiliated him. He also put his faith into Désirée, this may sound like it is unemotional but its not, by marrying lower down the relative hierarchy and then, in his mind, she brought “unclean” blood into the family. I think the real fault lies with Armand´s parents for not telling him about his racial background. They probably only did this so he could live a good life without discrimination, but in the long run it did him more harm than good. If he had known about it before this whole incident would not have happened. His ethics would be completely different but he wouldn´t be living in such splendour. I think he would be happier if he would have known from a younger age what his background was. After all life is quality not quantity.