Michael A. Morales
Professor Carol Froisy
LITR 320 American Fiction
June 10, 2012
A Marxist Critique of Desirée’s Baby
The Antebellum south, or merely the word plantation, conjures images of white, columned manses shaded by ancient oaks bowed beneath the weight of Spanish moss and centuries. Somehow these monuments of Greek revivalist architecture sparkle in their ivory-coated siding, even while the trunks of their aged arboreal neighbors hide under layer upon soggy layer of dense, green lichen. The white house is a reflection of the inhabitants, its cleanliness in the damp, soiled environment standing as a stark reminder of the hegemony governing the lives of those living not in the house, but hidden nearby. L’Abri, the plantation home of the Aubigny family in Chopin’s Desirée’s Baby, is yellow and has a foreboding black roof made more sinister by the gloomy shadows cast by its requisite antiquated greenery. L’Abri is not unlike any other antebellum mansion of the pre-Civil War era; it represents its inhabitants. The mansion is excellently presented as an example of how little authority color truly wields without an underlying power structure to give it substance. While race figures prominently in Desirée’s Baby, the story is an exemplary specimen for the application of Marxist criticism. Marxist criticism is the recognition of “inequalities in power between characters” (Gardner 146). It purposes to “expose the inequalities that underlie all societies” (Gardner 146). These inequalities can have multiple sources, though often the main source is race. But is race a biological reality? Miles posits that races are imagined, in that they “have no real biological foundation” (26). Miles further observes that differentiations between groups are “simultaneously inclusive and exclusive” (27) as the characteristics describing one group stand in contrast to another group. The destructive nature of racial categorization is in the claims that biological types determine “the endowment and behavior of individuals” (Miles 28) depending on their race, and that conflict between them is the “consequence of their biological constitution” (Miles 28). Furthermore, race can be used to argue that there exists a natural hierarchy that determines positions of inferiority, and by extension, superiority (Miles 28). These assertions give credence to the ownership of slaves and the race-based denial of rights, and are foundational to the idea that the mixing of races is unnatural and even destructive. But race mixing is not mixing if race does not exist as a biological category. While science can find ways to assign race, those categories are blurred as races blend and eventually they will disappear. As a danger to the idea of race, blending is anathema to the superior category. Plantation life was a microcosmic picture of the idea of a need for segregation, wherein each category was given “its own territory within which its distinctive capacity for ‘civilization’ can be realized” (Miles 30). But Chopin gives an excellent (and perhaps accurate) portrayal of the lack of any real biological basis for what constituted race in Antebellum Louisiana. Chopin describes Armand as dark (402), and Desirée points out to Armand that she is fair-skinned and whiter than he is (403). The baby is “their child” (Chopin 403) when Armand reveals the ‘truth’ to Desirée, but is Desirée’s child alone only four paragraphs later as she decides to leave (Chopin 404), notwithstanding the actual biological basis upon which the child’s parentage is based. Desirée walks away with the “golden gleam” (Chopin 404) of the sunlight in her brown hair, taking nothing with her, as befitting her new-found but false identity. She does not take the beaten path, but instead walks through the newly-harvested October fields (Chopin 404), again behaving in a way that befits the new category with which she now identifies. Desirée’s biology belies the reality that she now accepts as “the...
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