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Desiree’s baby is a short story written by Kate Chopin in 1892. This story was published in 1897 in ‘A Night in Acadie’, 27 years later after abolishment of slavery in America. Desiree’s baby is a widely acclaimed story that is set in antebellum New Orleans and the main concept of the story is slavery. It also deals with the Southern social system, the ambiguity of racial identity and the Creole culture. The story explores the role of racism that was a facet of every society in those times (Hassan and Tayib 2020).
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The story is narrated by a third person. This strategy of story- telling allows the readers to learn about small and important information about the past. Desiree is the protagonist of the story who was an abandoned child. She was taken by land owners, Monsieur and Madame Valmonde who were wealthy and brought up Desiree as their own. The story begins with Desiree and Armand, her husband being happily married. Armand was the owner of an estate, L’Abri. He had an image of a strict personality and also mistreated his slaves. He fell deeply in love with Desiree and married her. After the interlude, Desiree gave birth to a baby boy. The boy became Armand’s joy and pride. Armand was extremely content in his marriage and as a result has stopped mistreatment of his slaves. He became more kind towards them and understood them with tolerance (Johnson 2021).
However, in a later incident Madame Valmonde comes to visit her daughter and grandson when she claims that this cannot be their baby. After seeing a slave boy tend to the baby, Desiree understands the situation. She wonders that since her heritage was unknown, therefore it is possible that she had a African- American ancestry which was passed on to the baby. The baby therefore had a mixed racial ancestry. This was unacceptable and intolerable in the society where she lived (Chopin 1893).
Desiree then shares her fear with Armand, however Armand was already acting distant. Upon being questioned by Desiree, Armand replies that the baby is not white and therefore this implied that Desiree was also not white. Desiree was abandoned as a child and therefore did not have much knowledge much her true heritage. She failed to deny the allegations made by Armand. Armand then forced Desiree and the baby into exile and also became more harsh towards his slaves. Armand, being frustrated and confirmed of Desiree’s true heritage builds a bonfire to destroy all of Desiree and the baby’s possessions and clothes. While Armand collects Desiree’s things to burn them down, he also discovers a letter addressed to his father from his mother. The letter revealed the mixed- race parentage of Armand, where his mother had written that she belonged to the race that was cursed with the brand of slavery (Daca 2017).
The setting where the story was set was of great significance and importance. The place and time both were crucial aspects which made the story, Desiree’s baby a widely acclaimed story. A color barrier existed where any member of the ruling white upper- class who had any black heritage was immediately casted out from the family and the home. The reaction of Armand to his baby and Desiree may seem outrageous to today’s readers, however in those time the extreme reactions were thought to be appropriate. During those times, racism was ingrained badly into the society and a respectable white family could never even think of accepting a baby who belonged to a mixed- race (Matsushita 2019).
Desiree has been portrayed as a hypocritical and a destructive person. She was the adoptive daughter of Monsieur and Madame Valmonde. Her family history was unknown however appearance wise she had white skin, straight brown hair, and gray eyes. She has been described in the story as being sincere, gentle, beautiful and affectionate. She loved Armand and their son (Guo and Du 2021). However after realizing that her son is partly black, blood in her veins ‘turn like ice’. She demands Armand to give an explanation and later also tries to reassure Armand of her own whiteness. However later when she is asked to leave then she takes her son and disappears. She commit suicide and infanticide. Desiree was unable to accept her fate as a mother of a child who was biracial and separated from the father. She also loved her son dearly until her son’s black ancestry was revealed, making Desiree a racist and a selfish person (Sutomo 2017).
The stone pillar in the story is of symbolic origin in the story. Baby Desiree was first discovered by Monsieur Valmonde in the shadow of the stone pillar at the gate of his plantation. Baay Desiree was placed in such a way in the shadows of the pillar which correctly also symbolize her mysterious origins. The author described Desiree in the shadows as her past was also shadowed and only little was known about who she was or from where did she belong (Sutomo 2017). 18 years later when Armand sees Desiree, she was standing near the same stone pillar. It was then when Armand fell in love with Desiree. The stone pillar in Desiree’s life marks her unexplained past and also marks the estate of Valmondes where Desiree was grown up with a lot of love and care during her youthful days. Encounter of Armand with Desiree at the same stone pillar marks the beginning of another love. In this way the author has in a very intriguing manner used the stone pillar as a symbol to mark the important encounters which occurred in Desiree’s life. The stone pillar not only symbolized the transitions and acts of love in Desiree’s life, but also highlights her past (Gale 2016).
Kate Chopin managed to keep the suspense of the story and wrote the story in such a way to keep it engaging for the readers. The use of suspense kept the readers hooked and also made the story a great one to read and comprehend.
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