Desirees Baby Response Essay
Kate Chopin’s Short Story Desiree’s Baby Essay example
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Kate Chopin’s Short Story “Desiree’s Baby”
In Kate Chopin’s short story, “Desiree’s Baby”, she demonstrates how racism played a major part in people’s lives in the 1800’s. Kate Chopin is extremely successful in getting her readers to feel disturbed by the events in the story. Through words and images, the reader feels touched by the story, either by relating to it at some points or when confronted with things we frequently decide to ignore in the world: the evil some human beings are capable of possessing.
Chopin introduces the story with pleasant images and events; she enchants the reader with fairy tales. A woman who cannot have children is blessed with the most “beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere” (31) of…show more content…
The writer ends the first phase of the tale with Desiree’s expression of her feelings at that point: “Oh mamma, I’m so happy; it frightens me” (32). This comment is both a conclusion of the first phase of the story and a prediction of what’s to come next.
In the next segment of the account, Chopin breaks the enchantment and the readers’ hearts when she turns a fairy tale into a horror show. Armand’s behavior towards Desiree changes drastically, as for “when he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out.” “He absented himself from home; and when there, avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse” (32). Armand’s attitude did not only change towards his wife, but also towards the slaves as if “the spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him” (32). Desiree then finds out the reason for her husband’s change of conduct is the fact that their child is not white. The considerable change of mood in the story intensifies the already shocking events. As people are always looking for the “soul mate” and the “happy ever after” ending, it’s both disappointing and disturbing to see a beautiful dream turn into a nightmare.
Chopin ends the story with the most displeasing images of all. I hope it’s agreeable (even though it is something which still happens much too often in the world today) that
When the baby is about three months old, Armand's behavior abruptly changes: he absents himself from the home, and when he is at home he avoids Desiree and their child without any excuse. Desiree is flustered and taken aback when Armand accuses her of being partly black. One day, Armand walks into Desiree's room, and without noticing her, goes to a table and begins searching among some papers. She calls his name, and having realized what her mother had said about the baby, she asks Armand what the color of the child means. Armand replies that it means that the child is not white. It means that Desiree, Armand continues, is not white.
She writes to Madame Valmondé, rattled and anxious: “My mother, they tell me I am not white. Armand has told me I am not white. For God’s sake tell them it is not true. I shall die. I must die. I cannot be so unhappy, and live.”
Her mother urges her to come back, and bring the child with her. Desiree makes one final attempt to change Armand's mind. He thinks because God has dealt with him unfairly and has deceived him (because of the apparently mixed heritage of his wife), he is delivering his own punishment to God by abandoning Desiree. Afterwards, Desiree leaves with her child, and walks into the wilderness, eventually presumed by the reader to have died.
A few weeks later, Armand has a bonfire and burns all of Desiree's belongings, including the contents of the corbeille that he had given her before their marriage. The last thing that he goes through are a bundle of letters, most of which are Desiree's. However he finds the remnant of an old letter from his mother to his father, in which his mother reveals that she is thankful to God for her father's love and for the fact that their lives were arranged in such a way that Armand never came to know that his mother was black. In other words, it was not because of Desiree that the baby had the skin complexion that it did, but because of Armand.
It is somewhat difficult to discern whether Desiree is more disconcerted about the fact that Armand wants to separate from her, or about his accusation that she is part black. The first part of her letter to Madame Valmondé seems to indicate that she takes problem with the fact that she is accused of being part black, but only because it is being used to oust her. This brings out another analytic difficulty: would she otherwise be okay with being part black if it did not mean that Armand would end their relationship?
There is some syntactical ambiguity as well: who is the “they” Desiree refers to in the first sentence? Why does she repeat the same statement and replace “they” with “Armand”? The repetition is used to emphasize Desiree’s urgency and confusion. The “they” may be used to create an antagonizing and “Othering” effect to communicate to Madame Valmondé the possible danger that she is facing. She needs her mother to clear the air with Armand and come to her rescue. The “they” is actually just Armand, but by using “they” Desiree attempts to magnify the danger – that there are forces or people beyond just Armand who are questioning her background and compromising her sense of security and self-esteem. Those forces most notably could involve the racist societal norms of Louisiana, specifically some of the (presumably wealthy, white) “far-off neighbors” that made “unexpected visits” to see Desiree’s baby. There are unspoken assumptions and expectations that Desiree conveys through her use of the word “they.” Given Madame Valmondé’s brief and action-oriented response (she tells Desiree to return home with the baby immediately), she is acutely aware of what Desiree is talking about. Nonetheless, Desiree feels the need to mention the racialized societal pressures and forces at play.
Desiree again uses repetition to express her fear of losing Armand, but also, ambiguously, her issue with the possibility that she is part black. Does Desiree want to die if she is truly part black? Or because she fears losing the love of Armand? What makes her so unhappy? Moreover, given Chopin’s choice of subject matter and sociocultural setting, it would seem that the reader should give more attention and more importance to the former reason, the issue of race. This is because Armand’s struggles and his characterization center around his temperament, hastiness, and racism – and Desiree is completely accepting of all that, at least insofar as she does not feel so strongly as to protest the brutality with which Armand treats his slaves. This brings out another trope about race in America: though some people themselves might not ever cause harm to a black person on the basis of race, they are completely at ease with assuming that the white race is superior – and, as Desiree surely is, silent when others are visiting physical and psychological pain upon black people.
Armand’s attempted defiance of God also shows his own hypocrisy: if the Christian God is a loving one, and more importantly a just one, is Armand so blind as to not see how his hatred and brutality towards his slaves is ample justification for God to punish him the way he did? But God did not punish Armand through deception about the mixed heritage of his wife or child. Rather it was his fickle temperament that was, if one can attribute any sort of metaphysical extravagance to Armand’s fate, a divine punishment that left him without a wife (who was incredibly loving and of pure white blood) and a name (because it was assumed that Armand married a woman of mixed blood).
Despite the primacy of race, blind love and belonging more generally are crucial themes in the story, and as such they cannot be ignored in relation to Desiree’s letter. Her love for Armand is unquestionable, and she goes to great lengths – along the way denigrating herself and suppressing her objections to much of Armand’s hostile and unacceptable behavior – to maintain and foster that love. She cannot accept the fact that Armand is denying her love because of his false accusations about her racial heritage. Perhaps Desiree’s blind love too is her biggest flaw that leads to her (and her child’s) downfall. She is unable to see the enormous problems in Armand. It is unclear why this is the case: he did not go above and beyond (save her from some dire situation such as death, for example) to woo her or gain her love. Though her love for Armand seems to have no end, it also hints at deep insecurities that may have resulted from being abandoned at a young age, despite the incredible love, care, and affection that the Valmondés gave her.