Set in Louisiana in the mid-nineteenth century on two white-owned plantations some time before the Civil War, the story explores the psychological impacts of slavery and racial inequality. The violence and physical abuse that was so much a part of slavery exist only on the fringes of the story, implied in Armand’s “strict” treatment of his slaves and his ambiguous but likely sexual relationship with La Blanche, which makes sense given that all of the major characters of the story are the owners of the plantations. Put another way, the story explores the way that racism shapes and distorts the psychology and lives of the white slave owners who control and benefit from it.
The story shows several examples of how white perceptions of black inferiority, and in fact even how internalized black perceptions of black inferiority, lead to race being a taboo subject that causes characters to act in morally corrupt ways and to feel guilt, shame, and fear about their actions and identities. Without racial prejudice and the shame it generates, the story’s tragedy would never have unfolded. Madame Aubigny would not have felt the need to hide the truth of her own background. Armand would not have turned against Désirée and their baby when their son’s appearance identified him as a mixed-race child. Madame Valmondé would not have kept the reality of the child’s background from Désirée despite recognizing the truth herself. And Désirée, once she realized the significance of her child’s features and was accused by Armand of being part-black herself, would not have responded with such overwhelming shame that she walked into the bayou with her baby, killing herself and the child.
But the story pushes further in its condemnation of racism, by showing how the racism of its white characters causes them to see a person’s race as more important than that person’s self. Because, fundamentally, other than the fact that the child of Désirée and Armand reveals that it has a racial heritage that is both black and white, nothing else has changed. Désirée is still the same woman with whom Armand fell in love and who brightened his life, her baby is the same baby she adored, and she is still the daughter of her loving parents. And yet the mere fact of her racial history causes Armand to reject her and the baby, to cease to see her as the woman he loves and instead to see her as simply black and therefore beneath him. And for Désirée, essentially, to reject herself and her baby out of shame. The twist ending of the story makes obvious the idiocy and tragedy of this way of seeing the world, with racial background as its most important feature, since it becomes evident that one’s racial background isn’t obvious at all, and thus nothing to base assessments of oneself or of others.
Racial, Social, and Symbolic Elements in Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin
1188 Words5 Pages
When I think about starting over, I am often reminded of Armand in the story of “Desiree Baby”. Armand, the protagonist in the story built a bonfire in the efforts of trying to erase away the memory of his wife Desiree, and his son. Armand’s bonfire symbolizes Armand wanting to start over and forget his past. Throughout the short story many elements of symbolism was used to convey a central message those include discussing symbols of racism, social class distinction, and the symbolic elements involving the difference between the gender roles. In “Desiree Baby”, author, Chopin emphasizes racism by selecting certain words to symbolize the association between light and darkness, and the slaves on the plantation.
The association…show more content…
The slaves working in Armand’s home was associated with a lighter color that could implicate racism. Zandrine the nurse is “yellow” completed. In the story Zandrine the yellow nurse fanned herself and looked out the window over the fields. Racism between the cotton pickers and Armand was clearly present. The slave of darker pigmentation was outside working in the field. Zandrine and La Blanche’s son had a light complexion and were allowed to do work in the home. Armand treatment of the slaves indicated that he look at them more as a possession than black human beings (Cummings). Armand conviction of Desiree race was racist. Armand went to the extremes of abandoning his wife and child conveys acts of racial discrimination towards the blacks. In the story Chopin expresses symbolism within the social class distinction by placing one race in a higher social ranking than the other and, by the abandonment of one race. In “Desiree Baby” Chopin shows how one skin color defines social class, and determines the value and identity of another (Cummings).For the majority of the story, Armand is clearly looked upon as a white male of class and wealth, until the end of the story. He owns land in L’ Abri, and he has a plantation full of African Americans working for him as slaves. Armand have slaves to do his work for him. He also expresses an individual class between the races of the slaves. The lighter slaves worked inside with his