11 May 2009
Irony and Racism in Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby”
In Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby,” Desiree is the adopted daughter of Monsieur and Madame Valmonde’, a wealthy Louisiana family. As a baby, she was discovered lying in the shadow of a stone pillar near the Valmonde’ gateway which made it unknown who she was or where she came from. She grows up and marries a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner, Armand who makes it clear that Desiree’s unknown heritage did not matter to him. They eventually have a child, a son, who appears to have traces of African ancestry and because of Desiree’s unknown heritage Armand immediately assumes that she is half black. After being rejected by her husband, Desiree takes the child and walks off into the bayou where she is never seen again. Armand, filled with resentment, proceeds to burn all of Desiree’s belongings. While doing so, he discovers a letter from his mother written to his father which reveals that Armand is the one who has mixed heritage in his background, not Desiree. The irony and racism Chopin uses throughout the story indicates Armand’s unknowingness about his family’s secret background.
At the beginning of “Desiree’s Baby,” race does not seem to be an issue. In fact, it just seemed to be a love story with race hardly coming into the picture. Coton Mais is the only imagery toward racism and slavery which was in Madame Valmonde’ thoughts
when she thinks of Desiree with her own family. But when she arrives to l’Abi to visit Desiree and the baby, she thinks of the Negroes, how they have “forgotten how to be gay, as they had been during the old master’s easy-going and indulgent lifetime”(360). The race issue becomes more important once she enters the house. Desiree speaks about Armand’s softened manner, which makes the reader imagine he was cruel before he had the baby. Then little by little, there are clues given concerning the baby, which indicates that the baby is not...