AUTHOR: Kate Chopin
REVIEWER: Agatha Rachael Akullu
Desiree’s Baby, a short story by Kate Chopin was published in her collection “A Night in Acadie” in 1897.
Kate’s vividly crafted story is a deep analysis of the complex relationship between boundaries and identity, and how racial prejudice can affect a child.
The story is set in Antebellum, Louisiana during the times of slavery and revolves around a toddler- Desiree who is abandoned at the gate of a plantation and later adopted by Monsieur and Madame Valmonde.
Armand Aubigny, the rich owner of a plantation falls in love and marries her wherein they have a baby boy.
Things fall apart when the baby turns out to have dark skin.
Armand accuses Desiree of having black ancestry; a race that is cursed with a brand of slavery and chases the baby and her out of his home.
In the end, Armand discovers in his late mother’s letter to his father that it is him, who’s in fact of mixed ancestry and not Desiree.
The story’s overriding theme is race/racism.
Important to note is that the story is set during a time when there were strong bars between races, and anyone with dark skin or relatives with dark skin was said to be of “the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery”.
It is less wonder that Armand mistreats his black slaves, and when he later discovers that his baby is black, he disowns it with the mother.
Similarly, the colour of a person’s skin mattered less than the colour of the relative’s skin.
A case in point is La Blanche, a slave whose name means “White”. Much as she’s white in the skin, she’s considered a slave because her family members have dark skins.
The author employs several instances of foreshadowing in the story, that give hints of what is to come later in the story.
For instance, Desiree’s appearance at the gate of Valmonde, Armand’s falling in love with Desiree, and Armand’s swift change of mood among many others give us warning of what to expect next.
Readers are not therefore completely surprised when the events later take a twist.
Irony is another technique the author employs in her story. Situational irony is seen when Desiree’s baby’s skin darkens after a few weeks until he resembles the slave children.
Since Desiree’s origin is unknown, the expectation here is that it must be someone in her family who’s black.
Armand’s discovery of the bitter truth about his true origin is thus an ironic twist that places the whole story into a sharp stance.
The letter that Armand’s late mother writes to his father is used by the author to emphasize the strict bars between races, and how strong prejudices were held against anyone who was not white, and it’s these prejudices that play a pivotal role in Desiree’s Baby.
The author also consistently employs vivid descriptions and simple English in the story which paints clear pictures in the reader’s mind and makes reading and comprehension susceptible respectively.
The story is also professionally edited with no grammatical errors. My favorite character is Negrillon, the male slave who pretends to have suffered a leg burn to be excused from work.
However, the deep suspense at the end of the story didn’t quite stand for me.
We’re told that Desiree walked away “under the live oak branches…across a deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet…disappeared among the reeds and willows…and she did not come back again”.
This implies that although Desiree and her baby may have died, they also may have lived and therefore leaves us readers incapable of arriving at a concrete conclusion.
The author also didn’t do much justice to the “surprise/trick” ending of the story in that it doesn’t evoke a poignant reaction from the readers.
It rather illustrates irony and the ambiguous nature of racism; that we can’t do much to change the status quo.
Nonetheless, it is a great read; a must-read. I’d rate it 4 stars.
- Ms Akullu is a poet, ED Read-Us Africa, Author, and currently pursuing BAED at Makerere University, Uganda. Her contact: firstname.lastname@example.org