28 June 2010
Desiree’s Baby and Yellow Woman
Even if things seem perfect on the surface, defined perfection is not set in stone – this is the common theme between “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, and “Yellow Woman” by Leslie Marmon Silko. Both leading women, Desiree and Yellow Woman, have a content life at home until a catalyst makes them realize sometimes having everything is not enough, forever. This theme along with other elements is put to good use in each of the short stories; characterization, point of view, plot and structure (referring to Alice Adam’s outline ABDCE) are examples of the elements the authors used.
The catalyst in “Desiree’s Baby” is the moment that Desiree and her husband Armand discuss why their child’s skin complexion is different than their own. Armand is quick to assume that it is Desiree who is not white in origin – which readers find out later it was actually his own mother who is not. It is because of this that Armand is the antagonist of this story. Before their child was noticeably of different complexion, Armand and Desiree were deeply in love. Chopin described in her first few paragraphs the day Armand first took a liking to Desiree. It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing her there, had fallen in love with her. That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love, as if struck by a pistol shot. The wonder was that he had not loved her before; for he had known her since his father brought him home from Paris, a boy of eight, after his mother died there. The passion that awoke in him that day, when he saw her at the gate, swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like anything that drives headlong over all obstacles (570). It is ironic how a man fell out of love Desiree, just as easily, and fast, as he fell in love. According to one critic, Armand let his “love of his wife soften him temporarily and perhaps offer him a psychological reprieve, but his actions clearly indicate that he is a man filled with torment and confusion” (Foy). This critic blames Armand’s actions on his unconsciously repressed childhood memories of his mother. Foy also believes that “With racial prejudice and psychological confusion as the sources of his cruelty, Armand has no choice but to turn from Desiree and the baby” (Foy). He physically has a choice, but mentally he feels he can not cross that specific boundary in his life. It is because of this mental selfishness, that Armand suffers the loss of a loving wife and son and potential for a happily ever after.
The catalyst in “Yellow Woman” is not a moment, but a person – Silva – another male alleged to be the antagonist of the story. Silva is the man who “kidnapped” Yellow Woman and stole her away from her home and family. At home, she lived with her mother, grandmother, husband (Al), and their baby; these were the people she hurt and abandoned for this three day adventure. She had only heard tales of the “Yellow Woman” and the ka’tsina (mountain) spirit from her grandfather: “Yellow Woman went away with the spirit from the north and lived with him and his relatives. She was gone for a long time, but then one day she came back and she brought twin boys” (257). Silva met the innocent girl the night before the story takes place alongside the river. It was then that Silva had swooned her into thinking he was the ka’tsina spirit and that she was Yellow Woman. This is the reason I believe why she was mislead so easily. That and her strong faith in her grandfather’s tales lead her inner influence to go with the man who claimed he was the talked-about ka’tsina spirit.
Both women are mothers with seemingly entirely different bonds with their child. “Yellow Woman” rarely refers to her child so the reader is left with the impression that: she must not love her...
Cited: Chopin, Kate. “Desiree’s Baby.” Making Arguments About Literature. Ed. John Schilb
and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2005. 569-574.
Marmon Silko, Leslie. “Yellow Woman.” Making Arguments About Literature. Ed. John Schilb
and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2005. 253-262.
Reso Foy, Roslyn. “Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby.” Explicator Summer 91, Issue 4 (49: 222)
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