Desiree’s baby Kate Chopin wrote the short story “Desiree’s baby” in 1892, when black people where considered second-class citizens. Even though the slaves were freed in 1865 as a directly consequence of the north states victory at the civil war, racial segregation were at it highest, particular because of the “Jim Crow” laws. Black people were free – but their opportunities were not good. Even tough many new schools and churches were built for the black people, racism were a big sinner and black people were treated very bad – especially in the south states.
Miscegenation was a cursed word, as the communities saw it as a crime and both the family and the baby were suppressed. Desiree felt that on her own body. “Desiree’s baby” contains a lot of typical short story characteristics, e. g. “in media res” and an ambiguous ending – yet it differs on places, such as the length of the act and the number of characters – but Kate Chopin wrote both short stories and novels, so it’s not unthinkable that she mixed the two genres here. The short story is told by an omniscient third-person narrator.
It’s not a limited narrator, as we hear more than one character’s thoughts. E. g. in this sentence “it made her laugh to think of Desiree with a baby” one of the characters, Madame Valmonde’s, inner thoughts are shared with us, while Armand bares his soul places like this “he thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; … ”. The main character is Desiree. She’s “beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere – the idol of Valmonde” and an orphan, found in “the shadow of the big stone pillar” just outside Valmonde.
She’s adopted by the religious and kindly madame Valmonde, who believes that “Desiree had been sent to her by a beneficent Providence to be the child of her affection, seeing that she was without child of the flesh”. Desiree’s also described very gentle in her actions, e. g. with the slaves and she’s madly in love with Armand, which sentences such as “when he smiled, she asked no greater blessing of God” intensely indicates – and it is, at least in the start, reciprocated. Armand is described as a very “hard” and strict person, but his love for Desiree makes him soft as butter.
Their love is almost described as in a fairytale, as he fell in love with her “as if struck by a pistol shot”. He’s blinded by love and even looks beyond her “obscure origin”, even though he’s warned. Later, he grew even softer, as ““marriage, and later the birth of his son had softened Armand Aubigny’s imperious and exacting nature greatly” – but all that changed, when it occurred to him that the baby was not white. He’s a product of his time and surroundings – a “typical” south state man, who leads a cotton farm and perceives black people as second-class people. However, Madame Valmonde, is at some points ahead of her time.
When Desiree wrote to her that the people were telling her that she was not white, she answered “My own Desiree: Come home to Valmonde; back to your mother who loves you. Come with your child. “. Even though she gave birth to a “colored” baby, she still wishes to see and be in touch with Desiree AND the baby. That may be considered normal today, but at that time it was an enormous privilege. The setting of the story is the southern state, Louisiana, on the two plantations Valmonde and L’abri. Valmonde is the name of the family who owns the plantation, while L’abri is the French word for shelter.
The reason that many French words and French sounding names appear in this story, is that Louisiana once was a French colony. The story takes place before slavery was abolished, so it’s going on around the mid-nineteenth century. The community surrounding the characters of the story are very wealthy, as many slaves harvest the cotton at L’abri. Besides that, it is also a sign of status and money that Armand orders a “corbeille from Paris” to his wedding with Desiree, as the journey from Louisiana to Paris was incredibly long and difficult at that time.
The story unfolds in the period July to August, as we hear that three months are going from the day Miss Valmonde visit Desiree to the “break up” of Desiree and Armand – and Desiree leaves Armand “an October afternoon”. One of the themes of the story is miscegenation. Kate Chopin wishes to bring the subject to the knowledge of people – to bring the topic to debate. Kate Chopin is famous for using naturalism in her work, which is a literate movement, with realistic writing, who brings social issues to debate.
It’s used her, as the story narrates about a white girl, giving birth to a colored child, taking the “easy” way out – disappearing, which is possible the death for her and her child. The hertz against “mixed”, and of course black, people, were something Kate Chopin wished to change and that’s the issue she tried to put focus on with this short story. The story also deals with ethical and morale themes, such as the fact that it’s not right to accuse people for something you’re not sure about. Armand learns this the hard way, as he receives “nemesis” for his evil deed, when he discovers that it’s him who’s carrying the black genes.
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