In the antebellum yearsof the South, one’s fate was determined by race. The white people of the OldSouth were raised with prejudice against any who were of a non-white heritage. Allassociation of any kind between races was abominable. If there was any doubt orquestioning of one’s heritage, she would be on the receiving of much gossip. Inthe story “Dèsirèe’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, when Monsieur Valmondè picked up theyoung Dèsirèe there was gossip and “speculation” of the child’s background(Chopin 902). Because one’s race was paramount in the South, any affiliationwith a different race was abhorrent, but within a prominent family, it would bescandalous. When Dèsirèe was found at the entrance of MonsieurValmondè’s plantation, there was much questioning of her ancestry.
While MadameValmondè was quick to say that she was “sent to her by a beneficent Providenceto be the child of her affection,” the rumors lingered. Although, in that timeit was not uncommon for slave owners to have relations with some of theirslaves, it was despised to have them be a part of the family. Because of theunknown origin of Dèsirèe, Valmondè was concerned about her marriage to ArmandAubigny (Chopin 902). If it was proven that she was of a non-white race, itwould 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 prominentslave owner and wealthy. Any damper on such a standing would cause irreparabledamage to “the oldest and proudest” family in Louisiana (Chopin 903). Prominentwhite families in the days of slavery were highly concerned that their pedigreestay unmixed.
Trouble arises four weeks after the baby is born, whenMadame Valmondè visits the baby at L’Abri. After her instant denial that thebaby belongs to Dèsirèe, she carries it to “the window that was lightest” toconfirm if her suspicions were true (Chopin 903). Later, Dèsirèe, oblivious toanything amiss, suddenly becomes terror-stricken when she notices the skin toneof both her baby and the “quadroon boy.” The realization of all the shame andscandal that would rain down on them if all were to know was unbearable forher. The laws in those days were centered more on individual punishment thanprotection. Armand had all legal rights to do what he saw fit. Armand, alreadyaware, 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 andage, he has every right to do as he sees fit. He sends her off because he feelsas 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 thathe has known and believed about himself. If his mother had come and lived inAmerica 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 wouldcause him to have little, if any, opportunities to have a decent life. Themother was grateful for the fact that her ancestry would not interfere with theopportunities her son could achieve (Chopin 906). Because his mother had diedwhen he was still young, it caused him to be raised in a place where prejudicewas strong against the African race. If he had been raised in Paris for hisentire childhood, he may not have been as cruel (Chopin 902). Armand’s successin suppressing his wife is a symbol for the white male dominated society inthat, not only were wives seen as close to property, but they had to obey thewill of their husbands.
If the secret of Armand’s heritage had been revealed tothe public, the “oldest and proudest” family name in Louisiana would have beendestroyed (Chopin 903). In the short story “Dèsirèe’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, theparamount division between all people were race. If a white family had anyaffiliation with people of another race, it would be detrimental to theirpublic image. Armand’s cruel disposition to Dèsirèe and their child is causedby his belief that his wife is of a different race; although, it had been Armandhimself that was of a mixed origin. The burning of both Dèsirèe’s and thebaby’s belongings give an image that he is burning away his and Dèsirèe’ssecret, never to be spoken of again (Chopin 905). The ways of the antebellumSouth involving race were cruel and ruined the lives of many people both youngand old.