Judgment and Racism in “Desiree’s Baby”
Published 14 Apr 2017
Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby” narrates the story of Desiree, whose life has been turned upside-down by the same man, who gave it so much brightness. Desiree marries the love of her life, Armand Aubigny, and soon, she gives birth to a big, healthy boy. At first, everything is perfect. Armand has been transformed by fatherhood from a violent and strict slaveholder to a more lenient master. As the baby grows, Armand and others realize that the former is not white, because Desiree is not white too. Desiree does not survive the loss of Armand’s love for her, and she commits suicide, bringing her baby with her. The ending lends an ironic twist to the story. A letter from Armand’s mother reveals that it is Armand, who is actually partially African. The two ideas that come up with “Desiree’s Baby” are that racism destroys humane judgment and as a consequence, it metaphorically murders both the judged and judge.
Armand represents the common racist master, who is proud of his race and name. When he learns that Desiree is not fully white: “Moreover, he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name” (Chopin 5). Armand believes that any connection to the black race smears putrid shame on his family’s name. He denigrates anything that is black by nature. He changes his disposition to his wife and own child, after knowing that they have black blood. But since he cannot hurt them like he could with his slaves, he can only hurt his slaves more to release his rage: “And the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves” (Chopin 3). These resulting actions reveal that Armand has lost the humaneness of his judgment.
Racism has completely clouded the reasoning of the judged and in the process, it leads to their death. Desiree could not accept that Armand does not love her and their child anymore, just because they have African blood. She writes to her mother to ask about this accusation that she is black, and she remarks that she will die from unhappiness, if it is all true. Her mother does not know Desiree’s real parents, so she sends back a cryptic message. Desiree tries to move Armand’s heart one last time, but to no avail, because he allows them to leave, which in a sense means that he abandons them from now on. Desiree does not think straight anymore, because she loves Armand more than herself and their son. Desiree disregards that she and her son are human beings and they deserve to move on, and she decides to kill herself and her baby.
Racism has also deranged the judge’s logic, which also figuratively murders. Armand does not even consider the possibility that Desiree is still white, with perhaps other kinds of race relations. The story highlights themes of whiteness and darkness. Desiree is often the one surrounded by lightness and whiteness. Because of racism, Armand further does not even realize that he is the dark one in the story, with his “dark” face and skin. The ending infuses gloomy situational irony, when Armand discovers that he is the “real” black one after all. If only Armand took the time to think about the facts, and even, for a while, set aside his racism for true love, he could have saved his family’s lives. He did not do any of these things, and he ends up as the one who has lost it all, even his own claim to the white race; he is alive, but his loss is so great that he might as well have died.
This short story underlines the evils of racism. It is so evil that it destroys the logic of both slaves and masters. It is utterly immoral that it rips away the humaneness of people’s thoughts. Racism pushes Armand to make hasty generalizations, which metaphorically murders his family. When he compels his wife to commit suicide and infanticide, he has also killed himself in the process. He has no family and he tarnishes his cherished name, which is already shamed in his perspective, because he is black himself. But the thought that will kill him the most is that he brought it all upon himself.
Chopin, Kate. Desiree’s Baby. Web. 24 July 2010 http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/DesiBaby.shtml