Desiree's Baby: Summary & Analysis

Desiree's Baby: Summary & Analysis
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  • 0:01 Desiree's Baby Plot Summary
  • 2:56 Desiree's Baby Analysis
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

In this lesson, we'll take a look at ''Desiree's Baby,'' a short story written in the late 19th century by writer Kate Chopin. We'll explore its plot summary, and then we'll analyze the story's themes.

Désirée Plot Summary

Kate Chopin wrote the short story, ''Désirée's Baby,'' in 1892, 27 years after slavery in America was abolished. This story is set during the time of slavery on a Louisiana plantation, exploring the role of racism in every facet of society.

This story is told by a third person narrator, a strategy which allows the reader to learn small but important pieces of information from the past. The protagonist, Désirée, was an abandoned child taken in by wealthy land-owners. The wealthy land-owners were Monsieur and Madame Valmondé, who raised Désirée as their own. At eighteen, Désirée marries Armand, the current owner of a nearby estate called L'Abri (French word for shelter), who falls deeply in love with her. Armand has a reputation for his strict personality and for mistreating his slaves.

The young newlyweds, living at L'Abri, soon produce a baby boy, who becomes their pride and joy for the first few months of his life. When Armand is madly in love with Désirée, nothing can touch their happiness.

During this brief interlude, Armand becomes notably kinder to his slaves, treating them with understanding and tolerance. Unfortunately, there is something not quite right about the baby. When Madame Valmondé comes to visit her daughter and grandson, she sees that something is amiss. In fact, she declares aloud, ''This is not the baby!''

In a later incident, a slave boy of one-quarter black background is tending the baby. Désirée watches the two, and suddenly realizes what she is seeing. Her own heritage is unknown, and the young mother now believes that she must have African-American ancestry, which has been passed on to her baby. In the society in which she lives, this discovery is intolerable.

Désirée willingly shares her fear with Armand, who has recently been acting distant and often absent from home. When questioned about the baby, Armand coldly informs his wife that the baby is not white. Furthermore, that she is not white. Poor Désirée has trouble denying this charge, as neither she nor her adoptive parents know anything about her true heritage. Madame Valmondé urges the miserable girl to come home with her baby. Her husband concurs that she should not be in his home with the statement, ''Yes, I want you to go.''

Désirée, however, does not go home, but rather takes the baby and disappears into a field, taking nothing else with her.

The final confirmation of Armand's disgust with his wife and child is a bonfire he builds to destroy her clothes and possessions. To Armand's distress, while collecting Désirée's things to burn, he finds a letter from his mother to his father, revealing Armand's own mixed-race parentage. She has written, ''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.''

Désirée's Baby Analysis

Importance of Setting

Let's first take a look at the importance of the story's setting.

A setting includes place and time and both aspects are crucial to the impact of ''Désirée's Baby''. In pre-emancipation Louisiana, along with the rest of the Deep South in America, there was a color barrier that was only crossed in secret. Having any black heritage, for the ruling white upper-class, meant being cast out from home and family.

Armand's reaction to the baby and his mother seems outrageous to the modern reader, and to many of writer Kate Chopin's initial readers in 1892. Yet, in context of the time and place in which the story is set, this extreme reaction seems appropriate. Racism was so ingrained in society that a mixed-race baby could never be accepted by a respectable white family. Madame Valmondé's offer to take in Désirée and her child seems a given to us, but for the time period and place, she is something of a hero.

Gender and Parenting

Let's now take a look at the role of gender and parenting present in the story.

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