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Themes in Desiree's Baby
Themes Examples in Desiree's Baby:
"blessing of God..." See in text (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.
"Désirée was miserable enough to die...." See in text (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.
"belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”..." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
In the letter that Armand reads from his mother, she writes that he “belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.” This reveals that it is actually Armand who is part-black, not Desiree. This dramatic plot twist makes the ending of the story, and the story itself, all the more ironic and devastating. Furthermore, Armand’s fate is extremely ironic here. He has treated his slaves with violence and cruelty based on the color of their skin, and now he must face the fact that he is actually part African American himself.
"and it was he who dealt out to a half dozen negroes the material which kept this fire ablaze...." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
After Desiree and the baby have disappeared, Armand decides to remove all traces of their existence by burning their possessions. If we recall the last image of fire associated with Armand’s passion for Desiree, then this passage becomes even more symbolic. His wife no longer holds any value for Armand because of her mixed heritage. Notice again the way that Chopin emphasizes Armand’s intersectional power. His own slaves are actually doing the work here, and Desiree’s reputation is the only one suffers because he is a wealthy, white landowner, and she is a woman now believed to be part-black. She would have beared “shame” and he would have been largely unaffected.
"and she did not come back again..." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
Desiree’s decision to end her own life emphasizes just how deeply racist this society is. Desiree understands the social, political, and economic consequences that being mixed-race entails for both herself and her son. Chopin also highlights the internalized racism that manifests from a society like this: Desiree now sees herself as inferior, as someone who is part African American. Her choice also signals the few options that women had during this time. Desiree has been dependant on Armand financially, and he has rejected her because of her race. While Desiree could have listened to her mother, her confidence and self-esteem were so shattered by her husband and her position in society that she likely felt that she had no other recourse.
"A quick conception of all that this accusation meant for her nerved her with unwonted courage to deny it...." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
When the narrator says that Desiree considers “all that this accusation meant for her,” it is suggested that Armand assumes that Desiree 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 an “affair” with an unwilling slave, but even the idea of Desiree having an affair disgusts him. Further, Armand is never asked to defend his heritage because he is a man while Desiree immediately must do so
"Oh, Mamma, I'm so happy; it frightens me...." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
Desiree’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 Desiree gives us an indication that it may not be permanent. However, her blind 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.
"La Blanche's cabin..." See in text (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.
"had fallen in love with her..." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
Notice that Desiree is standing by the same stone pillar when she meets Armand. The stone pillar thus also symbolizes the various transitions that Desiree experiences throughout her life. Under this stone pillar, Desiree was given her first home, and now that she has won the affection of Armand, Desiree will move to a new home once again. However, consider how Desiree is a passive bystander, claimed by others during both of these transitions. Her quiet and passive role in both situations emphasizes the societal position of women in society at this time.
"seeing that she was without child of the flesh..." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
When Madame Valmonde finds Desiree, she sees Desiree as a gift and blessing from God. Rather than taking her to an orphanage, she raises her as her own. Notice that Madame Valmonde’s interpretation of the situation ultimately decides Desiree’s fate. Had Madame Valmonde not attributed the child’s circumstances to God’s will, she might not have taken her in. This complicates the theme of fate and destiny, as Chopin suggests that our perceptions affect our decisions and their subsequent outcomes.
"Providence..." See in text (Désirée's Baby)
In the Christian doctrine, “providence” means divine guidance or care. In this context, it is associated with the concept of destiny, suggesting that it was God’s plan that the Valmondes find Desiree and adopt her. This establishes the theme of fate and providence that will appear throughout the rest of the story as characters blame or thank God for their circumstances.