Analysis Pages

Historical Context in Desiree's Baby

The importance of lineage in the prewar American South: Family name and status were very important in Southern plantation culture before the Civil War. Marriages, friendships, and other social relationships were heavily influenced by familial reputations. Desiree’s mysterious lineage, which Armand initially brushes off as unimportant when Monsieur Valmonde brings it up, eventually proves instrumental to the plot. Her unknown origins make her an easy scapegoat for the scandal of their child’s mixed race. The social hierarchy in mid-19th-century Louisiana placed land-owning whites at the top of social ladder and those with black lineage at the very bottom.

Historical Context Examples in Desiree's Baby:

Désirée's Baby

🔒 9

"blessing of God..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Although Armand’s “imperious and exacting nature” has been “softened” by love and the birth of his child, Désirée is still subject to his mood swings. During this time, women were expected to shape their lives around the needs and desires of their husbands. Désirée’s own moods and emotions are thus tied to Armand’s; if he is unhappy, so is she, with Désirée’s extreme emotional dependence on her husband reflects the sexist societal beliefs of the time.

"“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.

"“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.

"old Monsieur Aubigny having married and buried his wife in France..."   (Désirée's Baby)

All details in short stories are important, and Chopin’s inclusion of the detail has significance in the story. Since “Désirée’s Baby” is set prior to the American Civil War, slavery is still enforced and attitudes towards interracial relationships were generally condemned. However, France at this time had already done away with slavery and had different views concerning race and social class.

"La Blanche's cabin..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Although La Blanche never appears in the story, her name is mentioned quite often. Here, the narrator tells the reader that Armand has been at La Blanche’s cabin, implying that Armand has or has had a sexual relationship with her. Because La Blanche is Armand’s slave, she is deemed his “property,” and it was common at this time for slave-owners to rape their slaves. This introduces the theme of intersectionality in the short story, a concept that examines oppression from various social, political, economic, and racial perspectives.

"The young mother was recovering slowly, and lay full length..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Chopin uses small details here to subtly remind the reader that Désirée is wealthy. She can afford not to work, and all of the maternal care is performed by a waiting nurse. We can assume that the waiting nurse is likely a slave since during this time, slaves worked both in the plantation and in the home. It would have been common for someone of Désirée’s wealth to have a slave to do much of her child-rearing for her.

"the girl's obscure origin..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Monsieur Valmondé cautioned Armand because of his concern that Désirée’s murky past will present a potential problem. During this time, an individual’s birth, bloodline, and name were of extreme importance and could determine who they could marry. Although Désirée has been brought up in a wealthy family, her heritage is unknown. This would have been a serious issue for many suitors. Chopin foreshadows events to come with this cautionary line.

"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.

"the gateway of Valmondé..."   (Désirée's Baby)

Valmondé is the name of the plantation that Désirée grew up on with her parents, the Valmondés. Since plantations were owned by wealthy white people, this detail subtly informs the reader that the Valmondés are prosperous.

Analysis Pages