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Historical Context in Desiree's Baby

Historical Context Examples in Desiree's Baby:

Désirée's Baby


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

Although Armand’s “imperious and exacting nature” has been “softened” by love and the birth of his child, Desiree 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. Desiree’s own moods and emotions are thus tied to Armand’s; if he is unhappy, so is she. Armand thus has even more power over his wife, and Desiree’s extreme emotional dependance 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 Valmonde’s reply is not particularly comforting for Desiree; rather, she simply advises her to come home. It is unclear why Madame Valmonde gave these instructions, whether out of fear for her daughter’s future, or something else. However, notice that Madame Valmonde tells her to come back to her “mother who loves [her].” Madame Valmonde’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 this time, 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 the negative perception of interracial relationships. Those who were white in appearance, but had any African American lineage, were seen as inferior. When Armand immediately accuses Desiree 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 “Desiree’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.” During this time, male slave-owners would rape female slaves using this awful excuse. 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 Desiree 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, slave-owners owned slaves who worked both in the plantation and in the home. It would have been common for someone of Desiree’s wealth to have a slave to do much of the child-rearing for her.

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

Monsieur Valmonde cautioned Armand because of his concern that Desiree’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 Desiree has been brought up in a wealthy family, her heritage is unknown. This would have been seen as 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 Desiree’s beauty that Armand has fallen instantly in love with, not her mind. Armand considers Desiree’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 Desiree as anything but a lovely face is representative of the attitude towards women in general.

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

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

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