Essay, Research Paper: Desiree's Baby

Literature: Kate Chopin

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The 19th century was a difficult time for many women and blacks because of the
domination of white men over them. The social and economic hardships they faced
in day to day life was a constant reminder of this domination. The social
ideology in the story “Desiree’s Baby” was powerful and dangerous and held
no escape for any character. A woman with small children who lost her husband
would face extreme hardships without the support of close family members. One
who happened to be down on their luck would not find much sympathy among their
peers even with children. Kate Chopin was one of these individuals who was down
on her luck with six children. But fortunately had the support and comfort of
her mother for a short period before her mother passed away. A friend advised
this mother of six children that writing was a way to solve her problems
concerning money and help deal with her grief. Maternal love and all the grief
from losing loved ones were to be an attribute to the writing proficiency of
this literary artist. This period in Louisiana was not tolerant for mixed
ancestry and one found to be non-white would be ostracized from the white
community. There were some whites in Louisiana who was not racist but they would
still have to follow a strict code of segregation and social guidelines or risk
social or bodily death. Kate Chopin was born fourteen years before slavery was
abolished so must have had strong feeling on the subject. She no doubt saw mixed
ancestry in the black communities and realized the cause of it. This story
crosses the line into the covert world of mixed ancestry and the problems it
produced. The racism in the story is not discussed openly but is prudently mixed
in with Armand’s atrocious character and his evil soul. Armand’s evil was
deep as he forsakes his loving wife, infant son, and God. The story some
proclaim contributed to Chopin’s early success was “Desiree’s Baby” in
this story she mixed many feminist emotions from maternal love, to a wife’s
love and devotion to her estranged husband. During this period, some found it
tolerable to leave a baby on the doorsteps of a family to provide a chance at a
better life. This was an important point in the story when the Monsieur found
the baby Desiree near the front gate, it would mean that Desiree would probably
never be aware of her biological parents ancestry. The chance a baby with both
parents would be dropped off is not logical but was probably a single mother. A
single mother knew there was little help to be found and the child would be hard
pressed for a descent upbringing socially and economically speaking. Desiree
grew into a beautiful and gentle-hearted young woman and soon found a wealthy
suitor asking for her hand. This young suitor had known of Desiree’s past but
was in love and did not care of this seemingly innocent unknown factor of her
past. This suitor, Armand Aubigny was racist and wretched but the young bride
was in love and looked past his flawed character. The concept of young Armand
falling instantly in love after seeing Desiree standing by the gate is a bit
suspicious and sounds more like infatuation. The evil in Armand did not come
from his parents and the black employees were cheerful when he was growing up so
it is an open question concerning his acquired hatred. The blacks were cheerful
while his father was alive but was not during Armand’s strict management of
the L’Abri. Armand had changed to a kinder man after his marriage and the
birth of his son and it may have been the only time in his life he was truly
happy. The death of his mother while living in France when he was eight years
old may have had a precarious effect on his character. The way Madame Valmonde
described the L’Abri as “a sad looking place, which for many years had not
known the gentle presence of a mistress”(1), may have been a hint at Armands
evil nature being tied to having no maternal influence during most of his
boyhood. Madame Valmonde noticed the baby’s mixed ancestry immediately when
she went for a visit, exclaiming out loud at first sight of him “this is not
the baby”(2), Desiree thought she was referring to how big the baby had grown.
Madame Valmonde looked closely at the baby and new that it was indeed of mixed
ancestry but did not mention it to her daughter, this I believe was her way of
hoping for the best. Madame Valmonde was wealthy but knew her influence would
not be enough to help if anyone found out the baby was black. This would also
mean certain social destruction for Desiree having given birth to a black child.
The environment changed quickly on the L’ Abri and Desiree was not aware of
the circumstances that had changed it. Her husband had recognized that the baby
was not white and had turned into his old malicious self and was ignoring his
family in vain. One of La Blanche’s quadroon boys was near the baby when
Desiree noticed the resemblance of the skin color between the boy and her baby.
Desiree confronted Armand and asked him to explain what the baby’s color meant
and how it happened, Armand immediately and harshly accuses Desiree of not being
white like the baby. The quadroon boy is one quarter Negro ancestry and so his
mother La Blanch is also of mixed ancestry. This is important to know because
Armand compares Desiree with that of La Blanch when he tells her she is not
white. Armand was quoted as hearing the baby crying from “as far away as La
Blanch’s cabin”(2), the reason he was at the cabin could be he was using La
Blanch sexually. This would explain the quadroon boys. The practice of raping a
slave or employee in those days was not uncommon. Desiree compares her skin
color to that of Armand who is much darker than she is but he is not bothered by
this inconsistency in his reasoning. Desiree begged her mother Valmonde for help
in explaining to everyone that she is indeed white. Valmonde did not respond to
Desiree’s cry for help but just offered a place to stay for Desiree and the
baby. This was a strong blow for Desiree who felt she was now isolated in her
fight for justice against Armands unjust allegations. The struggle Desiree was
trying to overcome was a losing one and mainly because of the dominance of men
over women at the time. Armand did not relent in his persecution of Desiree and
the baby. This demented individuals main goal was to crush the soul of Desiree
and to punish God for what he feels was his unjust treatment. Desiree finally
went to Armand one last time hoping that his psychotic episode would be over but
Armand did not deviate telling her he wanted her and the baby to leave. The
Crushed and broken Desiree finally made the fateful decision that there was no
other life for her and the baby. This decision led to Desiree’s suicide and
the baby’s infanticide alone in the bayou. There would be no social life or
chance of a second family for a white woman with a black child during this time
period. Armand’s psychotic episode continued and he burnt everything belonging
to Desiree and the baby or that reminded him of them. Fear was something Armand
did not know because he always had domination over everything around him, but
with the baby being black he had social rejection to fear. It was during this
episode that he discovered a letter from his mother to his father that revealed
that it was indeed he who was black. God did enact the final revenge with the
appearance of the letter. The story touches on several social issues that would
not be talked about in specific places and times. The interracial conceiving of
children, mans dominance over his wife, and whites dominance over blacks were
all depicted in the story. In conclusion, the struggle for women and blacks
continue and with changing social attitudes some things are improving for them
but hatred and bias will be around for a long time.
National Womens History Project. * May 18, 1999
Wells, Kim “Domestic Goddesses.” Amazon.Com. 1999. *
August 23, 1999 Hoffman, Abudrey B. “Kate Chopin” *
Ker, Christina. “Kate Chopin” Empire Zine. 1998 *
7August1998 Masturzo, Sharon. “Kate O’Flaherty Chopin 1850-1904: A Brief
Biography.” A Guide to Internet Resources. *
1998 Hurley, Jennifer A., “Racism.” Current Controversies. San Diego: Green
Haven Press, 1998 Everett, Susanne. “History of Slavery.” Brompton books
Corp. Greenwich, Ct. 1991 Chopin, Kate. “The Awakening and selected short
stories – Desiree’s Baby. * May 16, 1999

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