In belongs to Dèsirèe, she carries it to “the

In the antebellum years
of the South, one’s fate was determined by race. The white people of the Old
South were raised with prejudice against any who were of a non-white heritage. All
association of any kind between races was abominable. If there was any doubt or
questioning of one’s heritage, she would be on the receiving of much gossip. In
the story “Dèsirèe’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, when Monsieur Valmondè picked up the
young Dèsirèe there was gossip and “speculation” of the child’s background
(Chopin 902). Because one’s race was paramount in the South, any affiliation
with a different race was abhorrent, but within a prominent family, it would be
scandalous.

            When Dèsirèe was found at the entrance of Monsieur
Valmondè’s plantation, there was much questioning of her ancestry. While Madame
Valmondè was quick to say that she was “sent to her by a beneficent Providence
to be the child of her affection,” the rumors lingered. Although, in that time
it was not uncommon for slave owners to have relations with some of their
slaves, it was despised to have them be a part of the family. Because of the
unknown origin of Dèsirèe, Valmondè was concerned about her marriage to Armand
Aubigny (Chopin 902). If it was proven that she was of a non-white race, it
would ruin Aubigny’s reputation and status to not have a white woman as a wife.
One could never come back from such a blow to one’s rank. He was a prominent
slave owner and wealthy. Any damper on such a standing would cause irreparable
damage to “the oldest and proudest” family in Louisiana (Chopin 903). Prominent
white families in the days of slavery were highly concerned that their pedigree
stay unmixed.

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            Trouble arises four weeks after the baby is born, when
Madame Valmondè visits the baby at L’Abri. After her instant denial that the
baby belongs to Dèsirèe, she carries it to “the window that was lightest” to
confirm if her suspicions were true (Chopin 903). Later, Dèsirèe, oblivious to
anything amiss, suddenly becomes terror-stricken when she notices the skin tone
of both her baby and the “quadroon boy.” The realization of all the shame and
scandal that would rain down on them if all were to know was unbearable for
her. The laws in those days were centered more on individual punishment than
protection. Armand had all legal rights to do what he saw fit. Armand, already
aware, blames it all on Dèsirèe and seems to have “the very spirit of Satan”
around any who come near (Chopin 904). Since he sees her as his inferior by blood,
he acts as though she is the dirt underneath his shoes. As with that day and
age, he has every right to do as he sees fit. He sends her off because he feels
as though “God has dealt cruelly and unjustly” and punishes her because of an
“unconscious injury” to both his “name” and “home” (Chopin 905).

            The awareness of Armand’s true ancestry changes all that
he has known and believed about himself. If his mother had come and lived in
America instead of Paris, it would have been detrimental to his family name.
Everyone would know his heritage was of the same as the slaves. This would
cause him to have little, if any, opportunities to have a decent life. The
mother was grateful for the fact that her ancestry would not interfere with the
opportunities her son could achieve (Chopin 906). Because his mother had died
when he was still young, it caused him to be raised in a place where prejudice
was strong against the African race. If he had been raised in Paris for his
entire childhood, he may not have been as cruel (Chopin 902). Armand’s success
in suppressing his wife is a symbol for the white male dominated society in
that, not only were wives seen as close to property, but they had to obey the
will of their husbands. If the secret of Armand’s heritage had been revealed to
the public, the “oldest and proudest” family name in Louisiana would have been
destroyed (Chopin 903).

            In the short story “Dèsirèe’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, the
paramount division between all people were race. If a white family had any
affiliation with people of another race, it would be detrimental to their
public image. Armand’s cruel disposition to Dèsirèe and their child is caused
by his belief that his wife is of a different race; although, it had been Armand
himself that was of a mixed origin. The burning of both Dèsirèe’s and the
baby’s belongings give an image that he is burning away his and Dèsirèe’s
secret, never to be spoken of again (Chopin 905). The ways of the antebellum
South involving race were cruel and ruined the lives of many people both young
and old.