Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Desiree's Baby-A devious Plan

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A Devious Plan

Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby” on first reading appeals to readers as a beautiful love story gone horribly wrong. Armand sweeps Desiree off her feet and “she loved him desperately”. Their happiness made complete with the birth of their first child, a son to carry on the family name. Ah, but then tragedy struck when both Desiree and Armand realized that the child had Negroid feature’s. Armand quickly stopped loving Desiree and turned her and her baby out. “She disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou, and she did not come back again”. The ending leaves the reader with a feeling that justice prevails when Armand finds a letter from his mother,

But, above all,” she wrote, “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”.(Chopin)

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Other readers may very well see this story has having a conscious, that the writer wrote the story to make political and social statements. The theme’s of slave owner vs. slave, white vs. black, and women vs. men is apparent throughout the story. Also apparent is one’s social standing and the importance of the hierarchy of white, woman and black and their place in the grand scheme of things. However let’s look at a completely different twist to this story. (Wolff, Cynthia Griffin)

Louisiana of the time was one of the toughest states for blacks, whether slave or free men of color in which to live in. It was against the law for whites to marry blacks. Children of mixed races were considered illegitimate and forbidden to inherit, even if the child is acknowledged and raised by a wealthy father, upon the father’s death, the child would be knocked down the social ladder to a free man of color. A free man of color lived a precarious life, for he was likely to be sold back into slavery for any number of small offences or petty crimes. Louisiana also had the “One Drop Rule” in which any person with even one drop of black blood was considered black. (Margaret D. Bauer)

Armand Aubigny was a “dark faced” man of high social status. His name was “one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana”. He owned a large working plantation and many slaves. In other words, he was a man with a lot to lose. His mother and his father raised Armand in France until her death when he was eight years old. According to psychoanalyst Marjorie McDonald, the capability to distinguish between skin colors exists well before the end of the first year and that the infant raised biracially awareness inevitably comes during the first year. Psychologist Kenneth B. Clark states that racial awareness is present in Negro children as young as three years of age. This knowledge develops in stability and clarity from year to year and by the age of seven is part of the knowledge of all Negro children. (166) If this is true then there can be little doubt that Armand knew his mother was black. Therefore, we can concur that Armand went into his marriage, knowing of his background and yet accused his wife of not being white. Why? (Critical Essays on Kate Chopin)

Armand of the proud name and great land holdings needed to produce heirs to carry on his legacy, but how to accomplish this without his origins exposed if his child displays Negroid features?

Then “as if struck by a pistol shot” he fell in love with Desiree, his neighbor whom he had known since he was eight. Was he struck by love or by inspiration? He knew that Desiree was a foundling and had no idea of her origins before adoption by the Valmondes. Even when this fact was brought to his attention he declared “What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?” What better way to attempt to have children without fear of exposure then to have them with a woman of “obscure origins”? (Margaret D. Bauer)

After the child was born, Armand was happy because the child did indeed look white and expressed that happiness by treating his wife and slaves with tolerance. However, by the third month of the child’s life, it began to display Negroid characteristics and Armand instantly fell out of love with Desiree. He accused her of not being white and she was unable to prove otherwise as he well knew she could not. Armand was displeased that his attempts at having a white child where thwarted. Because he had never loved Desiree, he had no further use for her in his life. When the opportunity arose for him to be rid of her and the child, he gladly acquiesced when she asked him “Do you want me to go?’ replying, “Yes I want you to go.” Desiree then took her child and “was never seen again”. So ends Armand’s problem of what to do with a woman he had only one use for and child that he could not stand to have remind him of his own origins. He then symbolically purged his life of what he saw as his failure by burning everything belonging to Desiree and the baby. (Margaret D. Bauer)

Armand is definitely a villain in this story, but when faced with losing all that he knew, the only life he ever led and possibly being reduced to a free man of color which was little better then a slave, he chose the desperate actions of any man faced with losing everything. If only his pride and egotism would have let him see that having no children, was a much better course then taking the chance of destroying two human life’s he would have been redeemed.(Cynthia Griffin Wolff)

Works Sited

Arner, Robert D. Pride and Prejudice Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby” Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. Ed. Petry, Alice Hall. New York. Simon and Schuster. 16

Bauer, Margaret D. Armand Aubigny, Still Passing After All These Years The Narrative Voice and Historical Context of “Desiree’s Baby” Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. Ed. Petry, Alice Hall. New York. Simon and Schuster. 16

Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “The Fiction of Limits Desiree’s Baby”. Modern Critical Views. Ed. Bloom, Harold. New York. Chelsea House Publishers. 187

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