In 1893, the world had for the first time seen the short, but very strong story called “Desiree’s baby” written by Kate Chopin in 1969. It has not that many words but can easily play on the readers’ heartstrings.
Kate Chopin is an American novel and short story writer. Her stories mostly portray the scenery of Louisiana and have unexpected ending. She was considered the founder of the feminist movement in writing of the 20th century as she touched the problems that have not been touched long after her death. She was interested in the women’s role in the society and addressed the issues of women having fundamental human rights. The “Desiree’s Baby” was published in Vogue on January 14, 1893, but it was written a little earlier – on November 24 the previous year. Later, the story was reprinted in the “Bayou Folk” collection of Chopin’s stories in 1894 (Bonner, 2010).
The short story “Desiree’s Baby” tells the reader about a rich slave owner Armand Aubigny and his wife Desiree. She was a foundling with no origin, but Armand loved her, and their life was great until she gave birth to a child. The boy appeared to be of mixed blood. Thinking he was of Desiree’s origin, Armand made her leave the house. Desiree and her son disappeared, but eventually, it turned up that it was Armand’s ancestry, and it was he who had mixed blood. However, it was impossible to change anything.
In this short novel, Kate Chopin touches the aspects that were important during her living and remained important until nowadays. The problem of racism and origin is the main one. It appeared long before the Civil War in America and never disappeared since then. White people consider they are better and believe that people with the other color of skin deserve to be treated that way. They had found dozens of explanations why the white were right. In the story, we see that Armand treated his slaves with anxiety, he had “imperious and exacting nature” (Chopin, 1969). Despite his father, who was “easy-going and indulgent” (Chopin, 1969), a young slave owner strictly obeyed the norms of the society and is rude with the slaves “constantly punishing them” (Chopin, 1969). He softened after his son was born, but his racism returned with new strength after it had appeared that the boy was of mixed blood. At that time, the society believed that even a drop of African blood makes a person African. The color of skin was the basic aspect in determining one’s position in the society at that time with dark skin being a symbol of slavery. Therefore, when it became obvious that the boy was of mixed-blood, everyone was shocked, and their reaction was the rejection, not the feeling that is rife for the people who are contacting with the child. These feelings were shown through the reaction of Armand and Madame Valmonde, the woman who raised Desiree.
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Regarding the issue of slavery and racism, it is important to mention the character of “owner-slave” relationship, especially how owners treated their female slaves. They considered them their property, so they used their advantage in the females. That explains why there were too much mixed-color children born and why sometimes it opened through generation that a person had dark-skinned ancestors.
Through the story, Desiree is shown as a completely white skin woman. For the first time, she appears in “soft white muslin and laces” (Chopin, 1969), her eyes are described as gray, her hair is “silky brown” (Chopin, 1969), and her skin is “fair, whiter then his” (Chopin, 1969). She is always wearing white clothes. When she asks her husband whether she had to leave the house for real, she is named “silent, white, and motionless” (Chopin, 1969). On the contrary, the face of Armand is described as “dark and handsome” (Chopin, 1969), which alludes to his origin. It was Armand who had mixed blood and whose mother was of the African ancestry. The truth opens in the end, and this is another symbol of that time – the way the secrets were saved. No one knew it was the master of the house who had the mixed blood, not his young wife. Thus, this secret remained unopened for everyone except for the reader.
The scenery also is used to complete the story. When Madame Valmonde comes to visit Desiree and her baby, she comes to the “sad looking place” (Chopin, 1969). The roof of the house is “black like a cowl” (Chopin, 1969), and the house itself is “yellow and stuccoed” (Chopin, 1969). The oaks, which are surrounding it, are “big, solemn, thick-leaved and shadowed like a pall” (Chopin, 1969). All these adjectives imply that despite the life in the house seemed to be normal, the shadows of slavery and racism were always on it. When Desiree was leaving this place, she took not the broad road, but “deserted field where the stubble bruised her tender feet” (Chopin, 1969). In this symbolic way, the author shows the future of the girl and the destiny of African people. Their roads are not simple and smooth, but deserted and hard. Desiree “disappeared among the reeds and willows that grow thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou” (Chopin, 1969), that emphasizes that the life of African slaves even at its edge has never been covered with flowers.
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The story touches important issues and describes the problem of racism, the tough moments of that time, shows the general mood of the century, and also proves that the blood is thicker than water.
The “Desiree’s Baby” story had many supporters but much more antagonists. It is enormously hard to accept the mistakes and ask forgiveness for them. However, since there are the brave authors who do not afraid to open these problems to the society, there will be some hope for the community to change. That explains why the story remains popular throughout the years.
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