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Character Analysis in Desiree's Baby

Armand: Stunned by her beauty, Armand falls in love with Desiree and impulsively marries her, despite knowing little about her. This reveals him as a shallow, vain man. He is also violent and temperamental. His love for Désirée is compared to destructive things like fires and pistol shots, and his behavior towards his slaves is strict and cruel, emphasizing that his “passionate nature” expresses itself through violence. His father, an “easy-going” man who fell in love with a black woman in France, serves to contrast Armand’s impulsive and cruel nature. Armand’s immediate rejection of Desiree after their baby is born and his status as a slave owner are characteristic of the deeply sexist and racist mindsets present in mid-19th-century Louisiana.

Désirée: Désirée is characterized as sweet and docile, allowing those around her to plan her life and take care of her. She is adopted by the wealthy Valmonde’s as a child and raised in privilege and luxury, despite her unknown lineage. She is later “claimed” by Armand when he falls in love with her beauty. She loves her child and her husband, but subtly indicates that she fears Armands temper. Désirée appears to hold similar opinions about race as her husband and the rest of society, content to benefit from slave labor and preferring to die than live with the stigma of being of mixed lineage.

Character Analysis Examples in Desiree's Baby:

Désirée's Baby

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"I cannot be so unhappy, and live..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Having found no comfort from Armand, Désirée pleads with her mother to protect her from the accusation that she is not white. Interestingly, she uses the words “they” and “them” when relaying these accusations, suggesting that while Armand has directly been cruel to her, the rest of society will be equally as cruel. The claim that she “must die” emphasizes how desperate Désirée is and how powerless she feels. Her life has completely revolved around Armand and his support for her; now it’s being stripped away.

"Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,” she laughed hysterically..."   (Désirée's Baby)

As Désirée struggles to understand the revelation about her baby, she tries to convince herself that she is not to blame. At this time, having a black relative corrupted one’s social standing, hence her hysterical insistence that she is white. Her laughter likely indicates a weakening of her mental fortitude, especially considering how cold and cruel her husband is being towards her.

"Armand Aubigny's imperious and exacting nature..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Désirée describes the change in Armand, and even though she asserts that he has been “softened,” her description actually emphasizes his darker nature. He is cruel and uses his power to harm those he has control over. As readers, we are led to wonder if the change that Désirée describes will be permanent, or if his true character is unchangeable.

"Désirée was miserable enough to die...."   (Désirée's Baby)

Armand is powerful in a number of ways as a white, wealthy male in a patriarchal and racist society. When he is upset, the ways in which his power intersects is emphasized. Armand is violent towards his slaves, he determines both his wife’s happiness and her livelihood, and he even uses his power over his female slaves in atrocious ways. Armand’s mistreatment of those with less agency is intersectional in nature, complicating the theme of intersectionality and racism.

"and it was he who dealt out to a half dozen negroes the material which kept this fire ablaze...."   (Désirée's Baby)

After Désirée and the baby have disappeared, Armand decides to remove all traces of their existence by burning their possessions. If we recall the story’s last image of fire, which is associated with Armand’s burning passion for Désirée, then this passage becomes even more symbolic. Notice again the way that Chopin emphasizes Armand’s power as a wealthy white landowner. His slaves are actually doing the work here, and Désirée’s reputation is the only one that suffers, as a woman now believed to be part-black. She bears the societal “shame” of the situation, and he would have been largely unaffected.

"He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Notice that the theme of fate and Providence is again emphasized here, but this time it is complicated by Armand’s unkind nature. In contrast with Madame Valmondé’s positive outlook on God and destiny, Armand assumes that God is punishing him “unjustly.” Armand sees his child’s heritage as a “cruel” and intentional curse from God. His love for his child is thus entirely conditional, just as his love for his “beloved” wife has been revealed to be. This assures readers that Armand’s earlier “change” in nature was, in fact, temporary.

"“My own Désirée: Come home to Valmondé; back to your mother who loves you. Come with your child.”..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Madame Valmondé’s reply is not particularly comforting for Désirée; rather, she simply advises her to come home. It is unclear why Madame Valmondé gave these instructions, whether out of fear for her daughter’s future, or something else. However, notice that Madame Valmondé tells her to come back to her “mother who loves [her].” Madame Valmondé’s love for her adopted daughter proves unconditional, unlike Armand’s.

"A quick conception of all that this accusation meant for her nerved her with unwonted courage to deny it...."   (Désirée's Baby)

When the narrator says that Désirée considers “all that this accusation meant for her,” it is suggested that Armand assumes that Désirée is either part African American or has had an affair with an African American man. Notice the irony in this sexist accusation. Armand can have relations with an unwilling slave, but even the idea of Désirée having an affair disgusts him. Further, as a man, Armand is never asked to defend his heritage, while Désirée immediately must do so.

"“It means,” he answered lightly, “that the child is not white; it means that you are not white.”..."   (Désirée's Baby)

During the times of slavery and segregation in America, a person with any amount of African American heritage was seen as non-white, regardless of appearance. This belief stemmed from racist ideologies of “purity” in bloodline and a negative cultural perception of interracial relationships. When Armand immediately accuses Désirée of not being white, he is making the sexist and racist assumption that his wife is the one to “blame” for the child’s mixed heritage. Armand sees himself as a wealthy and “pure” white man, so by his logic he must be free from suspicion.

"“As white as La Blanche's,” he returned cruelly..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Armand’s cruel reply delivers another blow to Désirée, who tried to appeal to him with her physical attributes. The nature of his cruel reply immediately after Désirée compares her skin color to Armand’s is also something to consider as it may have implications in the story. Since La Blanche is one of Armand’s slaves, this retort implies that he sees no difference between a woman who is partially black or fully black. He sees his wife and slaves as nothing more than property, and in the case of his wife, he sees her as property that has lost value.

"“Ah!” It was a cry that she could not help..."   (Désirée's Baby)

As Désirée stares at her baby and La Blanche’s boy, she finally realizes what has been bothering her. Readers will recall Désirée’s mother’s initial cry of “This is not the baby!” and deduce that Désirée’s baby has something in common with La Blanche’s boy. The idea that her son may have black heritage causes her to cry out. Though Désirée faces many difficulties in this society as a woman, her experience has not engendered tolerance or open-mindedness when it comes to matters of race.

"Oh, Mamma, I'm so happy; it frightens me...."   (Désirée's Baby)

Désirée’s claim that she is so happy that it frightens her ought to give readers pause. We have learned of Armand’s passion and cruel treatment of his slaves, and so this sudden change in behavior is at odds with how he has been characterized previously. That the change scares Désirée gives us an indication that it may not be permanent. However, her love for Armand and the baby blind her to the truth about her husband’s character, and she remains hopelessly idealistic, believing that he could never turn his cruelty on her.

"the old master's easy-going and indulgent lifetime..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Notice the contrast between Armand and his father’s temperaments. Armand’s father was “easy-going” and “indulgent”; under his “rule,” the slaves on the L’Abri plantation were “gay” (happy). However, Armand is a “strict” ruler, and the under his authority, the slaves are no longer “happy.” However, both men were slave owners, and even though Armand’s father may have been less violent than Armand, he is still advancing a system that denies basic rights to African Americans.

"pall..."   (Désirée's Baby)

A “pall” is a cloth that is spread over a coffin or hearse. Chopin chooses imagery that reveals the dark nature of the L’Abri plantation. The “sad,” “wide,” “black,” appearance of the house, and the description of the “solemn oaks” creates an ominous tone. Madame Valmondé’s shivering suggests that the L’Abri plantation is dark, cold, and eerie place. Further, the appearance of the plantation mirrors Armand’s own characteristics just as Désirée’s outward appearance mirrors her internal character.

"What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Armand’s hasty dismissal of Monsieur Valmondé’s cautions seems to be driven primarily by his overwhelming passion for Désirée, rather than his true lack of concern about her origins.

"The passion that awoke in him that day, when he saw her at the gate, swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like anything that drives headlong over all obstacles...."   (Désirée's Baby)

Chopin compares Armand’s passion to avalanches, fires, or anything else that moves quickly and without regard for objects in its way. This characterizes Armand as potentially capricious, rash, and reckless. If such passion can make him feel this way and suddenly change his behavior, then other emotions can just as quickly change his behavior in different ways.

"That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love, as if struck by a pistol shot. ..."   (Désirée's Baby)

This line tells the reader a bit about Armand’s family and his own character. He is characterized as impulsive and passionate. Note too, that Armand is associated with a loud and violent weapon, strongly contrasting with Désirée’s sweet and gentle nature. The description here also foreshadows darker aspects of Armand’s character.

"had fallen in love with her..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Notice that it is Désirée’s beauty that Armand has fallen instantly in love with, not her mind. Armand considers Désirée’s appearance as her single, defining trait. During this time, a woman’s beauty was much more valued than her wit or intelligence. So, Armand’s refusal to see Désirée as anything but a lovely face is representative of the attitude towards women in general.

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