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Further Thoughts On Kate Chopin’s Désirée’s Baby

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I found Désirée’s Baby rather profound, which somewhat surprises me due to the similarity between its ending and the ending of The Awakening – one would have thought it wouldn’t seem so shocking given both the similarity of the actions and the similarity between the reasons. Away from that, I think it’s far to say that many, many people like the story.

One of the biggest questions regards Armand’s background and behaviour. The Kate Chopin International Society’s website describes the likelihood of Armand having black mistresses, quoting:

“And the way he cries,” went on Désirée, “is deafening. Armand heard him the other day as far away as La Blanche’s cabin.”

The site says that this could be evidence of Armand’s affairs with black women – La Blanche is one of the women on the estate. Significantly, however, they remind us that all we have to go by are Chopin’s words. They also quote this:

One of La Blanche’s little quadroons…

Who knows what Chopin meant exactly, but this is the point when Désirée starts to worry and it seems she is literally putting two and two together – the site suggests Désirée’s baby is also a ‘quadroon’, a person who is a quarter black, and that perhaps Désirée also spots a likeness between La Blanche’s child and her own, facially.

Beyond the site’s ideas of family connection, Désirée has seen something in her baby’s skin tone that wasn’t noticeable before and with Valmondé having already pointed out a change – we can assume this is the baby’s skin colour – it’s possible that what Désirée notices is that resemblance to La Blanche’s son. We can assume that for whatever reason at birth, it was not noticed.

Then Armand’s opinion and behaviour:

“It means,” he answered lightly, “that the child is not white; it means you are not white.”

We don’t know much about Armand, but this assumption, if we can be so kind to call it thus, fits in with the age-old idea that a woman is at fault for the sex of a baby being female – it’s Désirée’s fault the baby isn’t white; her lack of known heritage means it’s her problem.

What’s particularly interesting is how Désirée chooses death in a similar fashion to Edna Pontellier. Although for different reasons, both have been rejected. Désirée does not take the offer of moving back to her adopted parents’ home. Was her mother’s feeling that something was off, and the offer of returning home, due to knowledge of Armand that Désirée didn’t have?

And is there anything in the eeriness of Armand’s house? We can possibly see lies there, a foreboding, and a metaphor for his personality, which the International Society says could have been dark, pointing to the details about his father and the difference cited between father and son.

In burning his wife and child’s possessions, Armand effectively and symbolically throws away his own heritage. We do not know if he knew about his heritage prior to this, and indeed the reading is more profound if we consider it was a revelation to him upon discovery of the letter, but it’s possible he did and that he’s doing his best to ‘pass’; a subject recently studied by Helen Oyeyemi. In wondering if Armand knew, we can look to this:

…the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and name…

Is injury a strong enough word for Désirée has supposedly done?

Beyond this tragedy is another: when Valmondé says to return she doesn’t refute Désirée’s fear. In terms of what Chopin was saying, it’s fair to say Valmondé didn’t think Désirée was black and that her lack of acknowledgement of that is a device that allows Chopin to create the ending. Had Valmondé addressed the question she may have saved Désirée’s life.

Désirée meets her death whilst looking angelic:

…her hair was uncovered and the sun’s rays brought a golden gleam from its brown meshes

She has feet ‘delicately shod’ and a ‘thin white garment’ that’s been torn by her journey. And she ‘disappeared among the reeds and willows’ – symbolic, perhaps, as the baby’s cradle, we learn shortly afterwards, was made of willow and that cradle also ‘dies’.

Of Armand’s possible discovery – rather than reminder – of his heritage, all Chopin says is this:

There was a remnant of one back in the drawer from which he took them. But it was not Désirée’s; it was part of an old letter from his mother to his father. He read it.

He read it – Chopin says that, and ‘dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery’.

The jury’s out but we can assume if it was in the back of the drawer and a remnant, it could have been there since the days of his father, because otherwise the question is what happened to the rest of the letter and why did Armand keep only that bit?

 
 

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