Desiree's Baby Book summary

Kate Chopin

Overview

About

Desiree’s baby is a short story written by Kate Chopin which examines the arbitrary nature of racism and its dire outcomes. It was first published in an edition of Vogue magazine in 1893. Readers follow Madame Valmonde as she visits her adoptive daughter who has recently given birth to a baby after her marriage to the scion of an illustrious Louisiana family, Armand Aubigny. She notes something surprising about the baby’s appearance but fails to bring it to Desiree’s attention. Three months later, Desiree observes something about her baby's appearance that seems to indicate black ancestors and asks her husband about it. He believes that she is black, even though her skin is whiter than his. Desiree leaves her husband’s home with her baby when he rejects her due to her heritage, and she walks into the bayou, never to be seen again. Armand later finds a letter from his mother that reveals his black heritage.

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Plot Summary

Madame Valmonde journeys to her daughter’s ranch, L’Abri, with the intent of seeing her month-old baby. She is to see her grandchild for the first time, and she recalls how Desiree had been but a child just a little while ago. She had been found by Monsieur Valmonde as a baby, lying next to a pillar on their property. They had all speculated about her origins, but eventually, Madame Valmonde had come to see her as a blessing from God since she had been unable to conceive of a child of her own.

Desiree had grown up to be a beautiful and virtuous girl, who had ended up marrying Armand Aubigny, the scion of a prosperous Louisana household. He had seen Desiree standing close to the pillar where she had been found as a child and he had become fanatical with his desire to marry her. This was surprising as he had known Desiree since his childhood which is when he had been brought back from France at the tender age of eight. Armand had ordered expensive gifts from Paris for Desiree, and they had married just as soon as the gifts had arrived. Monsieur Valmonde reminded Armand about Desiree’s unknown heritage but the youth hadn’t been deterred by it.

Madame Valmonde shuddered at the sight of L’Abri whose appearance clearly indicated a lack of feminine influence. L’Abri had not known the presence of a mistress for several years now as Armand’s mother had passed away during his childhood, and even then she had preferred to live in France. Madame Valmonde remarks that Armand differs from his father in his cruel treatment of his slaves since his father had been considered an open-minded and indulgent man. She finds her daughter decked in soft muslins with her new baby, who is being overlooked by a black slave. She is shocked by the child’s appearance but Desiree confuses her reaction to be caused by the infant’s growth and size. Madame Valmonde enquires about Armand’s reaction to the child, and Desiree tells her that he is extremely happy. She reveals that he has been softened by the birth of the boy, which has made him gentler with his slaves and lightened his perennial frown. He has heard the child’s cries as far as La Blanche’s cabin and has been delighted by them.

Desiree’s happiness is short-lived as Armand’s attitude seems to change in a course of three months, but Desiree has no understanding of why that may be the case. One day Desiree happens to notice something about her baby as one of La Blanche’s mixed children fans the infant with peacock feathers. Desiree shrieks with shock and silently dismisses the little servant. Armand walks into the room in search of some papers, but he ignores Desiree even as she calls to him with a wounded voice. She asks him about the appearance of their child and asks him what it means. Armand cruelly shakes her hands off and tells her that their child’s appearance means that Desiree is not white.

Desiree refuses to believe him as she tells him to look at her hair, eyes, and finally her skin which is whiter than his. Armand replies that it is just as white as that of La Blanche before he storms away. Desiree writes to her mother, pleading with her to tell them that she is white. Her mother replies with a short letter telling her to come home with her baby, as she is still loved at home. She shows this short letter to a silent Armand who instructs her to leave. Desiree walks away, hoping to be called back, and Armand believes that God had cursed him with dishonor and shame. Desiree takes her child from the nurse and silently walks into the Bayou. She is never seen again.

A great bonfire is made on L’Abri, and Armand presides over it while his slaves burn the possessions of both Desiree and her child. Armand also has them burn a packet of letters that he had exchanged with Desiree during the beginning of their espousal. Armand had found another letter, one that had been addressed to his father from his mother. In the letter, his mother had expressed relief that her child would never know that his mother had been black.

  • Author(s)

    Kate Chopin
  • Publication date

    1893

  • Language

    English

  • Classification

    Realism

  • Pages

    7

Keywords

Cerole Culture, Feminism, Racism

Publisher

Vogue

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