In the short story “DesireeBaby”, Chopin (1894) tells a story about a young white plantation-owning couple in antebellum Louisiana who got a baby boy that slowlydevelops black features. Desiree has an obscure origin because shewas left alone as a toddler near the gate of the valmonde plantation. Her husband Armand also has an obscure background because his motherdied in France when he was a youngster. However, they fall in loveand move in together on Armand’s plantation, then when the babyshows black features. Armand is so furious that he tells Desiree totake the baby and leave. “He thought Almighty God had dealt cruellyand unjustly with him: and felt, somehow, that he was paying him backin kind when he stabbed thus into his wife’s soul. Moreover, he nolonger loved her because of the unconscious injury she had broughtupon his home and his name (Chopin, 1984).” When Armand is throwingout and burningall of Desiree’s belongings, he discovers a letterfrom his mother that says she was a slave herself.
There are several literary themesin this short story. First of all, there is the theme of racism. Forexample, Armand is racist because he is furious that Desiree hasbrought ‘black genes’ to his family name. Also, Desiree is racistbecause she compares the color of the baby to her white. Thecharacter himself is racist in the way he treats his slaves. Desireein the text says her husband stopped punishing his slaves when thebaby was born. This goes to show that he still practiced racism. Thefact that Armand and his wife have white skin seems to hold morevalue to them and the society at large. In this era, it is apparentthat having black skin makes you a ‘lesser’ human.
DuringArmand’s mother generation, there was miscegenation brought aboutby slavery. Through slavery, there was racial interbreeding. Thismeans that there were certain races considered a minority. Practicingslavery paints a clear picture of racism, in the generation whenArmand was conceived and is recurrent in his own.
There is the theme of death inthe story. After Desiree and her baby are thrown out by Armand thewriter does not clearly state whether they survived. Towards the end,the writer explains that Desiree did not take the road to theplantation in Valmondé. Instead, she disappeared. This is anindication that the two died. Concerning Armand’s parents, thestory is clear that they died. His mother particularly, died when hewas only eight years old. Desiree is also raised by Madame Valmontwho found her dumped at her plantation. This leaves room forspeculation that her parents had died after she was born or they diedlater on.
In the period between 1867 and1870 a number of events took place in the United States governing anddevelopment. In 186, the U.S.A acquired Alaska which was first‘owned’ by Russia. The same year the Chisholm Trail that connectsfrom cattle ranches in Texas to Kansas City, Cheyenne, Dodge Cityand, Abilene was mapped out. A year later, in 1868, all people bornin the United States were granted citizenship through the FourteenthAmendment. It was also passed that Federal employees would work for 8hours a day. This year also saw an increase in the number ofsweatshops which offered employment for immigrants. In 1869, laborersmainly of Chinese descent completed the first transcontinentalrailway. Susan B. Anthony was elected in this year as president ofthe American Equal Rights Association, where’s the National Women’sSuffrage Association elected Elizabeth Cady Stanton as president. TheFifteenth Amendment was passed in 1870, which gave African-Americanmen the right to participate in elections through voting.
The story has an element of thestructure including an omniscient narrator. The writer gives theaccounts in an all-knowing manner, providing extensive information.The story is set in the era of the civil war and includes acomparison of the life in France, and the use of French words givesit more structure. Adding similes also brings out the well-thoughtstructure which adds interest to the story. The element of irony inthe story is laid out where Armand has black genes whereas he hasslaves and goes on to denounce his dark- skinned child.
Chopin, K. (1984). “Desiree’sBaby”. Bayou Folk.Retrieved from: http://www.katechopin.org/pdfs/desirees-baby.pdf