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Notes on “Desiree’s Baby”

Notice how the title foreshadows the story. “Desiree’s Baby” sounds innocent enough as the title at the beginning, but we realize its significance when Armand denies the baby as his. He denies the baby when he realizes that his son is obviously partially black in ancestry (which everybody but Desiree and Armand immediately recognizes). Given the extreme prejudice of the era, such a reaction is not surprising, particularly given Armand’s violent temper. Armand blames Desiree for the mixed ancestry of the baby because she was an orphan, her parentage unknown. Her complexion was fair, but she could have still passed on a dark complexion to her son. The fact that Armand is darker than her makes no difference to him but is important to the story, leading to the final irony — it was Armand’s mother who was black. His father had concealed the fact by living with her in Paris & moving back to Louisiana without her.

Much of “Desiree ½s Baby” is told by implication; in this essay, I will concentrate on the implications about Armand ½s feelings and his feelings towards the baby after he found out it was black. In the story, we see a deep contrast in Armand ½s emotions and ways of expressing these emotions. It says near the start that “Armand is the proudest father in the parish” and that “he has ½t punished one of them” to “an awful change in her husband’s manner, which she dared not ask him to explain” and “the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves.” This implies that he was very happy, then he changed to very angry and upset. He also changes his manner towards Desiree, as if she has a disease; he avoids her whenever possible and talks to her with “averted eyes.” The strange thing about this is that Armand ½s mother is black (but he did ½t know it at the time), but surely Armand ½s father (who knew about her being black) would have taught Armand to be at the very least respectful to black people.

That is another contrast in the story. It says that “as they had been (gay) during the old master ½s easy-going and indulgent lifetime,” which is in total contrast to “Young Aubigny ½s rule was a strict one.” When Armand refers to the baby, he uses the word “the” this shows that he does not associate himself with the baby and feels emotionally unattached; we assume this is because the baby is black, which shows his deep racism against black people. Also, his dramatic change of attitude may be because he had formed an unconscious emotional bond (since all emotional bonds are) with the baby. As it says, the baby and Desiree (he thinks) give him an “unconscious injury.” Meaning that they betrayed him. When Armand talks to Desiree, knowing that the baby is not totally white, he does it very coldly, like he was numb from pain; this is also expressed when he says, “in a voice which must have stabbed him if he was human,” meaning that he was emotionally void or unattached. (this also shows that at the time this was written, there was still the idea that animals or other forms of life did not have feelings).

The story also shows another superiority complex: the feeling (of white people) that they were better than black people. This is rampant in the story, and very little attention is paid to it; it uses derogatory words such as “yellow” to describe people. Armand is a very emotional person who expresses ½s his emotions a lot. Armand ½s nature could be compared to a very spoilt little child (which he probably was) consider – he takes out his anger on his servants or slaves, he has a nature described as “exacting.” One thing that is surprising about the story is that neither Armand nor Desiree noticed that the baby is not black until after everyone else. This story was made a bit surreal by the very fact of Desiree ½s origin, which seems to be very abnormal even in the real world. We can assume that Desiree was very scared of Armand, and that may be based on prior experiences with Armand. We can assume this form where it says, “When he frowned, she trembled,” although, in the 19th-century, women were still considered lessors by men.

There are many things that could have made Armand think that the hypocrisy he bet his wife on where true; it could have been the fact that he was considered a purebred blue-blooded person with a name “that was one of the oldest and proudest in the whole of Louisiana” and Desiree was an adopted child with “obscure origins.”Madame Valmonde backed up Armands hypocrisye in her letter to Desiree; in the letter, she doesn’t ½t even validate Desiree ½s question with an answer; she just ignored it as if it was rhetorical. Also, there is another contrast in the emotions of Armand, since it says that ” He (Armand) looked into her eyes and did ½t care (about her origins)” then later he rejects her because he thinks now that she defiantly is black.

20th or 21st century standards should not judge Armands actions because of his lifestyle and the environment he was brought up in. I say this although it may seem irrelevant to the question though it does partially explain why he would have formed such views and why he acted in the way he did. I feel some of the sympathies in this story should lie with Armand because (even though it’s because of his own actions) he loses his wife, his baby and then has to deal with his hatred of himself (racially.) He also increases his pain by achieving self-alienation in the pursuit of social acceptance; he also achieved self-alienation (in-kind) by rejecting his ethnic origins. Desiree seems to have an emotional roller coaster in the story. She goes from having “a glow that was happiness itself” to being “miserable enough to die.” Which shows another contrast in the story. It shows the difference between Desiree, who is soft and non-violent, just bottles things up inside, and Armand, who will act upon what he feels.

Desiree seems to sink into madness; she is described as “hysterical,” and when she goes to kill herself, she obviously has ½t prepared, for she isn ½t not dressed for it (well, who is dressed for killing themselves?) or thought about killing herself. She had reached the conviction that she must kill without much thought. Armand rejects the baby because he feels hurt or betrayed by the baby, which he put his faith and love in the baby, and the baby, through no fault of its own, hurt him and humiliated him. He also put his faith in Desiree, this may sound like it is unemotional, but it’s not; by marrying lower down the relative hierarchy and then, in his mind, she brought “unclean” blood into the family. Armand trades his entire life and happiness because of the views of his time, and surely this experience if you can call it that, will change him and probably scar him. Armand is the real loser in this because he loses his love and loses his soul because of the pressure of society and has no sympathy. Is that fair?

In the short story Desiree’s Baby, by Kate Chopin, surprise plays a very important role. Although the story has a surprise ending, it can still have a second look with interest. While rereading the story, I look for the details, which foreshadow the ending that was missed the first time reading the story. But when I started to look for hints of foreshadowing, I found that Chopin is doing more than tell us a story about a couple. She is trying to convey a message to the reader. Desiree’s Baby is like an intricate Aesop’s fable or a fable for adults. Also, an analysis of the characters helps us understand the story and its meaning. The main character, which presents the conflict in the story, is Armand Aubigny. To fully understand the story and its elements, we must look carefully at Armand and his erratic behaviour.

One of the major aspects of Armand is his unpredictability. First, he falls in love with Desiree without any sign; later, he changes his moods back and forth in how he treats his own slaves and his wife, Desiree’s. “Marriage, and later the birth of his son had softened Armand Aubigny’s imperious and exacting nature greatly.”(Chopin, 82). And then, after about three months, he automatically changed. “Then a strange, an awful change in her husband’s manner, which she dared not ask of him to explain.”(Chopin 82). Armand is constantly changing his character, and it scares noDesiree and the readerecause we have no idea what he will do next or why.

After the story is reread, the reader learns to distrust and, in a way, deal with Armand’s behaviour. We get used to him, and we don’t expect too much from him. “That was the way all of the Aubignys fell in love as if struck by a pistol shot.” (81). This quote not only refers to how the Aubignys fall in love but how they go about solving their problems. The Aubigny family is very stubborn and one-track-minded. When there is a problem to be resolved, it is their way or no way. When Armand saw that his child was black, his only explanation was that Desiree was black. He didn’t even think about the other possibilities. That is probably why Madame Valmond ½ wrote back to Desiree to come home because it is no use to argue with Armand.

Not only does the reader have to cope with Armand’s stubbornness, but also so does Desiree’s. Desiree loves Armand so much that when Armand’s mood suddenly changed, she felt as if someone had stabbed her in the heart. She was confused about her husband’s in-human behaviour. She pleaded to him to show some feeling towards her. However, every day was harder for her to get through as she saw less of her husband. “He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife’s soul. Moreover, he no longer loved her because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and name.” (Chopin 83).

He could not bear the sight of her after he had the notion that Desiree’s was the reason for the child’s colour. Not only was he concerned with the child’s colour but with the fact that Desiree’s brought shame upon him and his name for falling in love with a Negro. He might have loved his wife, but he didn’t love her more than himself. The word “proud” comes up numerous amount of times within the story. In the beginning, when his future wife was nameless, Armand will give her the proudest name in all of Louisiana. When his son was born, he was the proudest man in the parish. And in the end, when Desiree’s hurt his ego, he treated her horribly because he wasn’t proud anymore.

The sense that Armand is so proud of himself is like a hint of how the end will turn out because when we realize that the child is black, the reader automatically knows that he is going to blame his wife. Never would he consider himself black. The thought of Armand being black never crosses the reader’s mind either. Kate Chopin also deceived the reader into thinking that Desiree is at fault by revealing, in the beginning, the fact that Desiree has an obscure origin. Not only did Armand blame Desiree, but we, the reader, also thought Desiree was at fault. Although we were first to blame Desiree, we still sympathize with her because she is so gentle and affectionate. We always side with the good guys. Armand acted so evilly towards the slaves and his wife that we started to hate him. Although we look down on Armand, we still sided with him in thinking that Desiree is the fault of the child’s colour.

Chopin tries to show the reader how the world is always quick to judge. This story would have had a greater impact when it was read during the time that the story is placed in because of slavery. If we were to be in Armand’s shoes at the time, we would have probably acted the same way. If we were to put this situation into our times, it would be like a man falling in love with a woman and then later finding out that she is his long-lost sister. Now he can’t even bear to look at her. He feels stupid forever falling in love with her, so stupid that it couldn’t have possibly been his fault. Never are we at fault. Finding out that Armand is actually the one that is black leaves the reader feeling satisfied that he got what was coming to him. But was it Armand that got what was coming to him, or was it the reader? It is very hard to find fault within oneself.

When we analyzed the story of Desiree’s Baby, we can’t find any foreshadowing of the ending. Instead, we have hints that lead us in the opposite direction. When we analyze the characters, it is obvious that our first reaction is to blame Armand. He is an unpredictable, egotistical little worm. But Kate Chopin forces the reader to blame him or herself instead of Armand. Even though it is hard to catch the meaning of the story the first time around, the moral is still subconsciously implanted in our heads when we laugh at Armand. If you think about it, you would not have done any better. The well-known Aesop’s fables teach the children of morals and good behaviour. However, adults need to be reminded as well.

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