A Critical Essay on the short story Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin.
Choose a short story in which a character changes. Explain how this change has an effect on the fate of another character. Refer to at least two of: narrative techniques, theme, characterisation, climax, structure, plot, language.
“Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin is a very thought provoking short story that deals with the racism, prejudice and love. The story is set in the deep south of America when black and white people did not mix and blacks were seen as inferior. The story takes an unexpected turn and throughout Armand, Desiree’s husband, changes and this has an effect on Desiree which then determines her fate. The characterisation, setting and plot show this change and they help emphasis this to the reader.
“Desiree’s baby” is about a young woman Desiree having a child. This was a time where it was very important for the ‘purity’ of a family to be kept and to have black descendents was a disgrace Armand, an extremely wealthy man, as it was to many people at this time in history. Desiree grew up unaware of her past and when the child is born Armand Aubigny throws her out of their home as he believes she has black descendants. At the end he discovers the remains of an old letter written by his mother that mixes up the whole story as it reveals it is he who has black descendants, his mother was a slave.
The main characters Desiree and Armand have a very loving relationship at the beginning of the short story and then suddenly it withers away due to Armand’s attitude towards her once she has given birth to the baby. Armand began to ignore Desiree and treat her very differently. At the beginning we heard about how they met each other but now he doesn’t seem to treat her as well, it is almost like he despises her:
“Then a strange, an awful change in her husband’s manner, which she dared not ask him to explain.”
We are told at the start of the story about Armand’s racist treatment of his slaves and this spills into his treatment of his wife when his suspicions get the better of him. He is a very wealthy man and his greed maybe takes over as he does not want what has happened to get in the way of his day to day life, instead he simply ignores Desiree making her confused, scared and miserable. She becomes afraid of her husband very quickly as she suddenly feels unloved and perhaps betrayed by him:
“When he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out.”
Desiree herself has a very positive outlook on life although she does not know of her past and neither does any of her family. When she was younger Monsieur Valmonde came across her “lying asleep in the shadow of the big stone pillar.” Although her mother did not know where she had come from and how she got to her, she did not care as she thought Desiree had been sent to her by “a beneficent providence to be her child of her affection.” This made it so easy for Armand to jump to conclusions and assume that she was bi-racial. He does not possibly think that it could be him as he looks down at black people so much and detests there very existence. Armand’s treatment towards Desiree makes her suddenly become miserable and so when she leaves with the child, she feels she has nothing to live for:
“She disappeared among the reeds and willows…and she did not come back again.”
Armand and Desiree were very much in love at the beginning of the story and Desiree can’t cope without him. She does not understand what she has done but she feels guilty and Armand feels that she has betrayed him. She feels that there is no need to live if he isn’t in her life. The change in Armand’s attitude towards his wife affects Desiree and due to this she kills herself and her child.
The setting and plot of “Desiree’s Baby” is important to the change in Desiree’s fate. The story is set in a French speaking area of Louisiana in the nineteenth century before the abolition of slavery. The social beliefs of people and also their customs at this time play a significant part in the plot and how the characters deal with certain situations. Slavery is present in the story. At first it is small remarks about the slave’s nicknames such as “la Blanche” and “zandrine” however slavery gradually takes a greater place in the plot. Racism is so deeply rooted at this time that Armand’s mother tried to hide her own identity to protect her son:
“But above all…night and day, I thank the good god for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”
The racism is so bad at this time, and still is today, that the love of Armand and Desiree is suddenly crushed by this unspoken truth and it leads Desiree to commit suicide. Armand communicates the theme of pride in that he is so concerned with preserving his family’s ‘good’ name that he alienates his wife and child who he is supposed to love and care for.
In conclusion, the short story “Desiree’s baby” by Kate Chopin is a story about love and racism. The main characters of Desiree and Armand change throughout the story and this leads to Desiree killing herself. The setting also determines her fate as the story is set in the deep south of America where a divide between black people and white people was prominent.