Hum 102 Section G1
Galen College of Nursing
Omar Rodriguez, MAStatus versus Love in “Desiree’s Baby” The struggle to save face amongst our peers, to hang on to a certain social class or status has changed very little from the times of slavery and segregation. People today, just like they did centuries ago, go through great lengths to cover up secrets that may bring shame to their family name or cause them to be the subject of scrutiny amongst their acquaintances. Love is superficial and feelings can change at a blink of an eye if their spouse, partner or significant other fails to meet the expectations or threaten in any way the way they envision their life should be. Kate Chopin illustrates this in the short story “Desiree’s Baby”. A story about racism, prejudice and the blindness that overcomes Armand when he realizes that his son is of a mixed race. His racism is so deep, it is seen by the cruelty towards his slaves. To preserve his standing amongst his social class, he shunned his wife and his child, and drove her to her death. The irony was that he did not consider that those qualities that he despised and which he saw in his son, were ones that he possessed through his tainted bloodline. “Desiree’s Baby” written by Kate Chopin took place in Louisiana in the late 1800s just before the civil war. A time when miscegenation was not tolerated, and slaves were dominated by whites. Bloodlines and social class were important and any mixture of race or inferior blood deemed you an outsider. The story starts with a brief background of how Desiree, a girl of unknown origin, was found “asleep in the shadow of the big stone pillar” (Chopin, 1893, p. 8) by Monsieur Valmonde, a man whose wife could bear no children. Madame and Monsieur Valmonde raised Desiree as their own overlooking the fact that her origin was unknown. Desiree “grew to be beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere-the Idol of Valmonde” (Chopin, 1893, pg. 8). Armand Aubigny, a very proud young man whose family name was well known and respected among their social class. He was a slave owner, his “rule was a strict one”. (Chopin, 1893, p. 8). He and his father moved from France to Louisiana when he was only 8 after the passing of Armand’s mother. Armand grew up in Louisiana and had known Desiree a good part of his life, but it was not until that day that he saw her standing “against the stone pillar in whose shadow she lain asleep, eighteen years before,” (Chopin, 1893, p. 8) that he fell in love with Desiree. Chopin emphasizes the unknown origin of Desiree’s lineage several times during the story and writes that Armand immediately married her despite her obscure origin. “What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?” (Chopin, 1893, p. 8).
Armand and Desiree were blessed with a male child who would carry on the family name and this caused Armand much happiness and “softened Armand Aubigny’s imperious and exacting nature greatly”. As time went by, Desiree soon began to notice all the attention her child was getting from nosy neighbors and the distance exhibited by her husband towards her and their child. She finally realized that her child had several similarities as that of a mixed race offspring and confronted Armand. Armand not knowing that it was in fact his genes that his son inherited, turned his back on her and accused her not being white. He told her “that the child is not white; it means that you are not white”. (Chopin, 1893, p.10) Despite her pleads to look at her so that he could see she was white, he quickly dismissed her pleads and pointed out she was “as white as a La’Blanche”, (Chopin, 1893, p.10) a slave known to be of impure blood. Desiree was deeply hurt by his accusations and she was consumed with sadness and loss of will to live. She essentially ended her and the child’s life.
The theme of this story is race and racism and the importance of bloodlines and social class as well as the different types of love. This story highlights a mother’s love toward her child as seen Madame Valmonde and Desiree. A mother’s love is blind, Madame Valmonde was blinded by the love she felt for her child, Desiree and ignored the fact that she may not be of the same race. Desiree’s love for her child was also seen as she could only see the beauty of this child. At the end of the story when she leaves with the baby, she demonstrates her continued love as she can’t bear to be away from him and ironically takes her life and his. Armand’s love towards Desiree was superficial because it quickly changed when he suspected that she was not white. The story points out that he had fallen in love knowing that she was nameless. His demeanor changed when they were married and after the birth of his son and it points out the fact that he was somehow a changed man. Armand’s feelings quickly changed when he was threatened by the possibility of his name being tarnished and losing his standing amongst his social class. In the last scene when Armand was burning his wife and child’s belongings, he came across an old letter from his mother. His mother wrote “ night and day, I thank 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” (Chopin, 1893, p. 12) Throughout the story, there are certain symbols that differentiate Armand and Desiree, such as the color of their clothing. Desiree is always portrayed as pure, clean and wearing white and Armand wears dark clothing. This symbolizes their race and gives you subtle hints throughout the story.
Chopin, K. (1893) Desiree’s Baby. In A Collection of Short Stories (Winter 2014). (8-12). Galen College of Nursing