Desiree’s Baby Summary

Kate Chopin

Desiree’s Baby

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Desiree’s Baby Summary

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“Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin explores themes of love, race, and destructive prejudice within the antebellum French Creole culture in Louisiana. The short story was originally published in 1893, under the title of “The Father of Désirée’s Baby,” in Vogue magazine.

Désirée Valmondé is the adopted daughter of Monsieur and Madame Valmondé; as a small baby, she was found abandoned by Monsieur Valmondé outside the gates of his estate. Beautiful and beloved by her adoptive parents, she is courted by the son of another wealthy, French Creole neighborhood family, Armand. She and Armand marry and have a baby.

When the baby is born, Armand is at first delighted. However, the baby’s skin color soon shows signs of the baby being a “quadroon” or “octoroon”—either 1/4 or 1/8 African. Armand assumes that because of Désirée’s unknown parentage that she is part black.

Proud, arrogant, and cruel, as his treatment of his slaves has previously shown, Armand confronts Désirée. She denies being of African descent, and she writes to her mother, begging her for help. Madame Valmondé responds that she and the baby should return home to the Valmondé estate. However, her letter does not reach Désirée in time. Scornful and disbelieving of Désirée’s claims, Armand insists that Désirée and the baby leave at once. Désirée walks off with the baby in her arms into the bayou; they are never seen again.

Armand burns all of Désirée’s belongings on the front lawn, including the baby’s cradle. He also burns all of the love letters Désirée sent him during their courtship; however, one letter in the bundle is a letter from Armand’s mother to his father, which Armand reads. In this letter, Armand’s mother reveals that Armand is part black, through her lineage. Désirée’s ancestry is never disclosed.

Though Chopin sets the story in pre-Civil War Louisiana, her story purposefully touches on the troubling history and continuation of racism in the United States. By exposing Armand’s racism and revulsion for his wife and child, whom he previously adored, Chopin reveals how deeply-embedded prejudice and racism are among the privileged, “white” French Creoles. However, she also calls into question the racism inherent in the broader, contemporary culture. Modern literary critics find much to admire in Chopin’s themes and writing techniques, which include use of Creole dialect and culture that add realism to her tale. Désirée’s pitiful, desperate plight, once her husband throws her out, also highlights another aspect of Chopin’s writing: women’s roles and the need for women’s rights and equality.