Désirée`sBaby by Kate Chopin
In1892, the American writer Kate Chopin penned a short story entitled“Désirée`s Baby” but the Vogue Magazine did not publish thisnarrative until 1893 (George 45). The book primarily centers on thecomplexities of human affairs during the era before the infamousAmerican Civil. The issue of racism is prevalent throughout the book,and as the story develops, it shows its pervasive nature. In fact,the book is entirely about ideological agendas related to racism,historical misrepresentation of African-Americans, and exploration ofracial issues including their implications on the social, economic,and psychological aspects of people. Thus, it is imperative to drawan evaluation on this particular piece of literature especially itstreatment of race in the US during this period.
“Désirée`sBaby” is a very indulging short narrative set in mid-19thCentury America and more specifically is relevant to the raciallycharged period where large plantations were the economic drivers ofsouthern states such as Louisiana (Lakoro 19). The plot is set in twoexpansive plantations, namely, L’Abri and Valmondé. Désirée` isthe main character in the story who the author describes, “For thegirl grew to be beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere,-theidol of Valmondé,” (Chopin 637). Armand Aubigny who inherited theL’Abri plantation from his father falls in love with Désirée` andmarries her only for him to reject her after the birth of their childof mixed race, as he sees Désirée` as not white (Chopin 637). Mr.and Mrs. Valmondé, owners of the Valmondé plantation, are alsocrucial characters in the story who not only adopted baby Désirée`sbut also regard her as their precious child since they were achildless couple (Chopin 637). Other characters include Le Blanche, awoman slave with a mined race ancestry, and Zandrine, who offers careservices to Désirée` after having her baby. The other notablecharacter is Negrillon, a slave who employs lame excuses to beexempted from going to work on the plantation.
“Désirée`sBaby” is a well thought out book that reveals the thought patternsof the different characters (Shen 192). The main theme expressed inthe story revolves around the issues of gender inequality and more sothe thorny issue of racism in 19thCentury America. It was a time when slavery was critical to theeconomic, social, cultural, and politicallandscapeof southern states of the US (Hayes, Pauline and Francene 38). Slaveswere merely considered as property and not as other human beings suchthat, it was a privilege to be white and a curse to be a slaveespecially an individual of African ancestry (Shen 192). Chopinillustrates the social construction of racism and race, as well as,shows the mistreatment of blacks and the kindness projected to thewhites. However, Chopin depicts the social construction of racism asunstable and viewed depending on one’s perception.
ArmandAubigny like other males in the US at the time establishes the worthof others in his social circle upon their appearance, relative to notonly race but gender too (Hayes, Pauline and Francene 38). As such,being black or even have a little tinge of African American ancestryis considered as enough to disregard the status of another fellowhuman being (Lakoro 19). Slave masters like Armand were notoriouslyknown for their ill and overly cruel treatment of slaves. Forinstance, Chopin (638) provides that ‘negroes had forgotten how tobe gay.’ This was especially the case at Armand’s L’Abriplantation. Race is such a fundamental issue in the society at thetime that outer appearances were a critical determinant of how aperson was treated by the rest of the society. The virtue of anindividual being white or even appearing to be white was a cause formuch attention. For instance, the slave from a mixed ancestry lineageknown as La Blanche is enough to attract the personal interests ofArmand as much as he already has a son in marriage with Désirée`(Chopin 638). Désirée` also attempts to establish that she has alighter skin complexion in comparison to her son’s father, ‘lookat my hand, whiter than yours Armand’ (Chopin 639)
Thetheme of racism is so heavy in this particular short story, forinstance, after deeply falling in love with Armand and get married tohim, Désirée` is treated with so much disdain that she is compelledto move away from her husband’s home (Chopin 640). This onlyhappens after Armand comes to embrace the fact that their child hastraits that reflect mixed race ancestry, a human trait considered associally undesirable. This is best highlighted when Armand answersback to Désirée` stating that, ‘the child is not white it meansyou are not white’ (Chopin 639). Désirée`s reveres her husbandgreatly and as such, is a duly dutiful spouse, and though Armandconsidered her a trophy when he first set his eyes on her, the issueof skin color becomes a barrier to true love. Moreover, Chopinexplores the psychological implications of racism after Armand pushesDésirée` away and fails to love her anymore. Désirée’s mentalstate changes entirely and pushes her self-identity from a privilegedmember to an outcast. In fact, Chopin writes, “What did it matterabout a name when he could her one of the oldest and proudest inLouisiana,” (638). The statement shows that Armand treatment ofDésirée` based on race strips her of her identity.
Theissue of race relations transcends throughout the narrative andproceeds on to climax at the time Armand attempts to wipe allmemories of Désirée` as well as that of their only son (Chopin641). He burns all furniture and other accessories that serve as aremembrance of his beautiful but mixed race wife. When he opens up abunch of letters before tossing them into the fire, he comes to findthat he too, is not a purely white individual. This implies that thesociety in the southern US regions so divided by the race issue thathuman affairs could be instantly and disastrously destroyed simplybased on skin color.
Raceplays a big role in the story as the whites look down upon the blacksand mistreat them, but the author shows that racism is just a socialconstruction rather than a biological and status or identityconstruction. Armand pushes and stops loving Désirée` after shegives birth to a black kid, wherein Armand perceives that Désirée`carries black genes. However, towards the end of the story, thereader realizes that it is Armand who carries the black genes. Thetreatment visited upon the blacks shows how people can construeaspects, stereotypes, and identities based on misconceptions, onlyfor them to feel chagrined after realizing that they identify withthe aspects they abhor.
Chopin,Kate. "Désirée`s Baby (1893)." TheHeath Anthology of American Literature(1994): 637-641. Print.
George,Sarah Forest. "A Vanishing Act: The Invisible Quadroons ofChopin’s the Awakening." EthosReview2.1 (2015). Print.
Hayes,Michael Thomas, Pauline Sameshima, and Francene Watson. "Imaginationas method." InternationalJournal of Qualitative Methods14.1 (2015): 36-52. Web.
Lakoro,Suslaningtias Lakoro. WomenRoles in Kate Chopin`s Short Stories.Diss. universitas negri gorontalo, 2014. Print.
Shen,Dan. "Style and Rhetoric of Short Narrative Fiction."(2013): 192. Print.