English Literature
Desiree's Baby

Desiree's Baby

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Contrast of Antebellum Plantation Life in Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby" (1893)

The short story "Desiree's Baby" (1893) by Kate Chopin explores the complexities of love, racism, marriage, status, and spirituality in the American South during the antebellum era. Set on a grand plantation, the story follows the lives of wealthy French Creole plantation owners as they face a great mystery surrounding their mixed-race baby. Chopin's masterful storytelling weaves together a captivating tale of characters struggling to navigate the complexities of racial identity.

The American South in the 1800s was known for its large plantations and opulent lifestyles of the wealthy. Against this backdrop, "Desiree's Baby" takes on a sense of beauty and grandeur, adding to the richness of the story.

Background Information on "Desiree's Baby"

"Desiree's Baby" was written by Kate Chopin, a renowned American author and early feminist, famous for her novel "The Awakening" (1899). The story was originally penned in 1892 and first published in Vogue magazine on January 14, 1893. It was later included in Chopin's collection of short stories, "Bayou Folk," featuring 23 tales set in nineteenth-century Louisiana, each with its own unique characters.

Chopin herself was born and raised in the American South during and after the Civil War and spent much of her life in St. Louis, Missouri and New Orleans, Louisiana. With a French Creole mother, she had a strong connection to French culture and language, evident in her use of French dialect in "Desiree's Baby."

The distinctive culture of New Orleans' French Quarter greatly influenced Chopin's writing and her use of French language in her works, adding depth and authenticity to her stories.

The Use of French Dialect in "Desiree's Baby"

Through the inclusion of italicized French vocabulary, Chopin seamlessly incorporates the French Creole culture and dialect into the story. The characters often speak French, adding a layer of authenticity to their interactions. Some of the French words and expressions featured in the story include "L'Abri" (the shelter), the name of the Aubingy plantation, "Corbeille" (a wedding basket), "Cochin de lait" (a suckling pig), "Mais si, Madame" (Yes indeed, Mrs.), "Peignoir" (a light dressing gown for women), and "Layette" (a set of clothing and toiletries for a newborn). These words and expressions offer insight into the characters' culture and traditions, adding to the richness of the story.

Summary of "Desiree's Baby"

The story begins with Madame Valmonde visiting her daughter and new grandchild at a neighboring plantation. As she reminisces about her daughter Desiree's childhood, she reflects on the day her husband found Desiree as a baby, asleep in the shadow of a stone pillar at the entrance of their plantation.

Speculations surround the identity of the child and why they were left at the pillar, but Madame Valmonde believes it to be God's providence, especially since she was unable to have children of her own. Desiree grows up to be a beautiful, gentle, and loving person, cherished by her parents.

Eighteen years later, Desiree meets Armand Aubingy, and they soon marry despite her father's warnings about Desiree's unknown heritage. Armand showers her with lavish gifts and love, and they appear to have a happy marriage.

However, after a month of not seeing her daughter or grandson, Madame Valmonde is shocked to find a sad and gloomy atmosphere at Armand's estate. When she finally sees them, she realizes that the baby does not resemble Desiree at all. Desiree claims that Armand is happy to have a male heir and that the child has softened him, even towards their slaves. But Madame Valmonde's doubts and questions about the baby's race and identity cannot be ignored, raising concerns about the future of their family.

In Conclusion

"Desiree's Baby" is a compelling story that delves into complex societal issues of the American South in the 1800s through the lens of a seemingly perfect family. With its rich setting, well-developed characters, and thought-provoking themes, this short story continues to captivate readers and spark discussions about race, love, and identity.

Uncovering the Truth: Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby" Explores Race, Love, and Oppression

In the heat of the Louisiana plantation, Desiree observed a strange shift in her environment – the slaves were whispering and distant neighbors were paying unexpected visits. As if following suit, her husband Armand's behavior turned cold and harsh, leaving Desiree feeling utterly miserable and on the brink of despair.

One day, while a young quadroon boy fanned her child, Desiree made a startling discovery – her child's skin color matched the mixed-race boy's. This realization hit her like a ton of bricks, as she struggled to find the words to express her shock. In a time when "quadroon" was a derogatory term used to describe mixed-race individuals, this discovery only added to the racist connotations surrounding Desiree's predicament.

Confronting her husband, Desiree begged for an explanation but was met with a cruel response – Armand believed that if their child was not white, then Desiree must not be either. This revelation sent Desiree into a state of hysteria, and Armand's solution was to order her and their child to leave. Desperate for answers, Desiree reached out to her mother who responded with love and acceptance. But instead of returning home as her mother suggested, Desiree chose to disappear into the Louisiana Bayou with her child.

Weeks later, Armand was seen burning all of Desiree and their child's possessions in a massive bonfire. It was then that he stumbled upon a letter revealing the truth about his own heritage – he was the one with black ancestry, as his mother was part black and had kept this information hidden from him. The irony of this discovery was not lost on Armand, but it was too late – he had already caused immense harm.

The Role of Literary Devices in "Desiree's Baby"

In her short story, "Desiree's Baby," Chopin expertly incorporates literary devices such as symbolism, foreshadowing, similes, and situational irony to hint at the underlying issues within the story.

From the beginning, Chopin uses a third-person omniscient narrator to reveal bits of Desiree's past and her uncertain ethnicity, which Armand chooses to overlook in their marriage. The stone pillar near Desiree symbolizes how she is constantly overshadowed by the expectations of authority and tradition, foreshadowing the eventual conflict surrounding her unknown heritage.

Additionally, Chopin's use of similes highlights the intense and destructive nature of Armand's passionate love. He is described as being struck by love as if by a bullet, and his passion is compared to an avalanche or a prairie fire – powerful forces that can cause immense destruction. This foreshadows the instability in their relationship and Armand's character, despite their outward appearance as a perfect couple.

Even the imagery of the Aubigny estate adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the story. Madame Valmonde describes the house as having a steep, black roof resembling a cowl – suggesting death, concealment, or covering. This is further connected to Armand's strict and oppressive rule over his slaves, who have forgotten how to find joy under his cruel management.

In Conclusion

In "Desiree's Baby," Kate Chopin weaves a powerful commentary on issues of race, love, and societal norms. Through her skilled use of literary devices, she masterfully tells the story of a woman's struggle to find her identity and acceptance in a society that values appearance over true love and acceptance. This timeless tale serves as a reminder to look beyond superficial appearances and embrace the complexities of human identity with understanding and compassion.

The Unforeseen Truth in "Desiree's Baby" - Chopin's Mastery of Literary Devices

Madame Valmonde, Desiree's adoptive mother, proudly recalls the comical sight of her maid trimming her son's nails. This humorously highlights the predicament as Madame Valmonde was shocked to find her blessed granddaughter had been born with a dark complexion, while Desiree remains unaware. This touch of absurdity adds to the intensity of the situation and sets the tone for the rest of the story.

As Desiree realizes her son shares the same skin color as the quadroon boy, Chopin employs simile to depict her horror. She describes the feeling as though her blood had turned to ice, and sweat dripping down her face. These vivid descriptions effectively convey the shock and discomfort that Desiree experiences when she comprehends her son's black heritage.

It is this epiphany that changes Desiree's life forever, as she finally understands the reason behind the strange behavior towards her and her child. Her previous blindness to her son's skin color due to her love and happiness is shattered, leading to a significant shift in her character.

The Symbolism in the Conclusion of "Desiree's Baby"

The symbol of fire epitomizes Armand's fiery rage and destruction as he burns all of his wife and child's belongings. This serves as a sharp contrast to the passionate love he had for Desiree at the beginning of the story, also described as fire. Through this symbol, Chopin conveys the destructive nature of passionate love and its potential to consume everything in its path.

Ironically, the story ends with a letter from Armand's mother proclaiming her gratitude to God for concealing her true identity from her son. This statement further emphasizes the situational irony of the story, as Armand discovers his own black heritage while revelling in his perceived superiority and disgust towards his wife and child.

A Deconstruction of the Characters in "Desiree's Baby"

Chopin creates characters that initially conform to traditional gender and social class stereotypes but ultimately defy them through their actions and emotions.

Desiree Valmonde

The protagonist of the story is Desiree, adopted and raised by the wealthy plantation owners, Madame and Monsieur Valmonde. She epitomizes the traditional feminine ideal of a delicate, beautiful, and devoted woman. Despite her unknown origins and race, she is loved and accepted by the Valmondes and finds happiness in the love and approval of her husband, Armand. However, her selfless love and reliance on her husband's approval ultimately lead to her desperation and downfall.

Armand Aubigny

Armand, a wealthy French Creole and owner of a large cotton plantation, is known for his intense temper and self-assuredness. He falls passionately in love with Desiree and quickly marries her. Despite his harsh treatment of slaves, the birth of his child with Desiree softens him. Armand embodies the traditional male ideal of a strong, handsome, and dominant man. However, his unpredictable and cruel behavior towards his family challenges this stereotype.

Madame Valmonde serves as a narrator of Desiree's life and represents a nurturing figure. Despite her wealth and high social status, her love for Desiree is unconditional and knows no bounds. She continues to support and stand by her daughter, even after discovering the truth about her grandson's skin color.

Lastly, La Blanche, a light-skinned slave, is used as a contrast to Desiree. Her name, meaning "the white one", highlights the obsession with race in society. Her son, the quadroon boy, is the one who fans Desiree's child to sleep.

In conclusion, "Desiree's Baby" is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged story that challenges societal norms and stereotypes through its characters and literary devices. Chopin's masterful use of symbolism and vivid descriptions drives home the devastating effects of pride, racism, and the destructive nature of passionate love.

The Unwavering Love of a Mother in "Desiree's Baby," a Story by Kate Chopin

In the 19th century French Creole community of Louisiana, Kate Chopin's short story "Desiree's Baby" explores the themes of love, race, and societal expectations. Madame Aubigny, the central character, exemplifies the strength and depth of a mother's love as she faces challenges related to her son's skin color and her own mysterious origin.

The story is set before the Civil War, in a time when southern plantations were dependent on slave labor. Desiree and her husband Armand live on a cotton plantation called L'Abri, which ironically means "the shelter" in French. However, the estate has a foreboding atmosphere, with Madame Valmonde noting its eerie appearance due to the absence of the previous mistress who passed away.

Nature plays a significant role in the story, with the description of the Louisiana bayou setting a foreboding tone. The bayou, a marshy swamp, symbolizes the dangers that lurk in society, including prejudice and racism. At the end of the story, Desiree disappears into the bayou, symbolically becoming one with nature as she takes her own life.

The themes in "Desiree's Baby" reflect Chopin's intention to challenge societal norms and expectations. Love, both romantic and maternal, is a prevalent theme. Armand and Desiree are consumed by their passionate love for each other, but when their marriage is tested, Armand's love disappears with his pride. On the other hand, Desiree's love for him is unwavering, but ultimately flawed as it is dependent on his approval. In contrast, Madame Valmonde's love for Desiree knows no bounds, despite her not being her biological child. Her motherly love is evident in her letter to Desiree, urging her to return home with her child.

Race, racism, and slavery are also significant themes in the story, with the French Creole plantation owners known for their color-consciousness. The issue of race is raised when Desiree's father questions her unknown origin, and derogatory names are used for the slaves. This highlights the damaging impact of race on people's worth. The story also exposes the extreme racism in the rural American South, where even those with fair skin like Desiree and her mother could be ostracized for having any African blood. Through Desiree's tragic ending, Chopin sheds light on the harmful consequences of this obsession with race and also explores the theme of miscegenation.

The story also challenges the idea of status and appearance as symbols of wealth and happiness. Armand displays his love for Desiree through lavish gifts, and their privileged lifestyle is supported by numerous slaves. However, when it is revealed that their son is not entirely white, Armand's obsession with status and appearance leads him to abandon his family. In contrast, Madame Valmonde sees past these superficial societal norms and welcomes Desiree and her child back into her home. Desiree's walk into the bayou at the end symbolizes her escape from societal expectations and her true desire for love.

In the 19th century, marriage and motherhood were seen as the ultimate goal for women. However, Chopin challenges this ideal by showing how these roles may not always bring happiness. While Desiree initially finds joy in her marriage and motherhood, it is short-lived when her husband turns against her and their child. She conforms to the traditional ideal of a perfect woman, but this ultimately leaves her in despair when her husband rejects her.

Challenging Gender Stereotypes and Embracing Motherhood: The Lessons of "Desiree's Baby" by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin's short story, "Desiree's Baby," defies societal norms and delves into complex themes of love, race, and motherhood in pre-Civil War Louisiana. Through her skilled storytelling, she highlights the dangers of traditional gender roles and the strength of a mother's love in the face of adversity.

Desiree, a beautiful and adored wife of wealthy plantation owner Armand, is the epitome of domesticity. However, when their child appears to be of mixed race, Armand's love for his wife turns to anger and resentment towards God for allowing this to happen. This reveals the damaging effects of societal expectations and the toxic nature of racism.

The story also touches upon the role of religion in the French Creole community, as characters frequently thank God for their blessings. However, when faced with struggles, some characters fail to turn to faith and instead succumb to their own darkness. This ultimately leads to tragic consequences, showing the importance of relying on faith and love during difficult times.

Chopin also incorporates aspects of French dialect and culture, painting a vivid picture of the time period and its societal norms. This highlights the injustices of racism and slavery and the detrimental effects it has on the characters' lives.

  • The Key Takeaways:
  • "Desiree's Baby" challenges societal norms and explores themes of love, race, and motherhood in pre-Civil War Louisiana.
  • The story reveals the damaging effects of traditional gender roles and the toxic nature of racism.
  • Religion is a prominent aspect, emphasizing the importance of faith and love during difficult times.
  • Chopin incorporates elements of French culture and highlights the injustices of racism and slavery.

Interesting Facts about "Desiree's Baby":

  • When was "Desiree's Baby" written? "Desiree's Baby" was written in 1893.
  • What is it about? It follows the downfall of a wealthy couple due to their mixed-race baby.
  • What is the main theme? The main themes include love, racism, and gender roles.
  • What is the message? The message is that appearances are deceiving and racism is unjust.
  • When does it take place? "Desiree's Baby" is set during the time of American slavery in nineteenth-century Louisiana.

In conclusion, "Desiree's Baby" is a powerful and thought-provoking story that challenges societal norms and explores the complexities of human nature. Chopin's powerful storytelling and nuanced characters make it a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the impact of traditional gender roles and racial prejudice, and the strength of a mother's love.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime