Désirée’s Baby

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Armand Character Analysis

The rich heir to the Aubigny plantation and fortune. Armand is a strict and cruel master and manager of his plantation. He falls desperately in love with Désirée at first sight and woos her with extravagant gifts, including fine clothes. When he realizes that their baby appears black, he abandons his love for Désirée, as well as his kindness toward her, assuming that she also has black heritage. The end of the story reveals that Armand’s mother, Madame Aubigny, was black, and so the appearance of his child is due to his heritage and not to Désirée’s mysterious background.

Armand Quotes in Désirée’s Baby

The Désirée’s Baby quotes below are all either spoken by Armand or refer to Armand. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of Désirée’s Baby published in 1976.
Désirée’s Baby Quotes

It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing her there, had fallen in love with her.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand
Related Symbols: Stone pillar
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée grows into a beautiful young woman, and it is this beauty that attracts the attention of her wealthy neighbor, Armand Aubigny. Armand falls in love with Désirée at first sight, which this story presents as "no wonder" due to Désirée's great beauty. Armand sees Désirée's beauty as her defining characteristic. At this time, women were primarily valued for their beauty, rather than for their intelligence or character. This is one example of the sexist treatment Désirée and other women (for example, La Blanche) receive at Armand's hands.

Désirée's location at the moment when Armand first sees her is symbolic: this is the site where she was found as an abandoned baby. The parallel between these two events is clearly intentional, as the narrator explicitly reminds us in this passage that this is the very same place where Désirée was found by the Valmondés. This site is a place of transition for Désirée. She found her first home here with the Valmondés, and now she finds her second home here with Armand. In both situations, it's worth noting, Désirée is passive. She is quietly waiting, and other characters arrive and decide to claim her. Throughout the story, Désirée's passivity reinforces the powerlessness of women in this society. The stone pillar is also a symbol of the wealth of the Valmondés, and their solid position as members of the upper class, as the pillar stands at the gates of their estate. Désirée is marked as belonging to this upper class when she stands near the pillar.

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The passion that awoke in him that day, when he saw her at the gate, swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like anything that drives headlong over all obstacles.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand
Related Symbols: Stone pillar, The Bonfire
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

Armand falls in love with Désirée when he sees her standing near the gates of the Valmondés' estate. Armand's character is captured in this passage that describes his instant passion for Désirée. Armand falls in love with her at first sight, and the basis for his love is Désirée's beauty, which appears against the backdrop of her family's wealth and the shadows of the mysterious stone pillar. This shows that Armand's love is strong, but also rather superficial. He is not interested in Désirée's personality or character. Throughout the story, he continues to see her as more object than person—she is a beautiful object that he wishes to possess. Thus when this beauty is tainted by questions about her race, it is easy for Armand to reject his superficial love. 

This passage shows that not only is Armand's love superficial, it is also dramatic. The metaphorical language compares Armand's passion for Désirée to "an avalanche" and "a prairie fire," both of which are destructive natural disasters, and both "drive headlong over all obstacles." These similes give the reader a sense of Armand's destructive personality. He is strong-willed and unforgiving. But they also demonstrate the power of passion and love, which is repeatedly linked to "blindness to the truth" throughout this short story. Armand does not consider Désirée's mysterious background when he falls in love with her. He is initially blind to the risk of marrying a girl of unknown origin, despite the value he places on his family's good name. Yet this "blindness" is not strong enough in Armand's love, and the "prairie fire" of his passion later becomes a literal bonfire when he discovers what he thinks is the truth about Désirée's racial heritage.

Young Aubigny’s rule was a strict one, too, and under it his negroes had forgotten how to be gay, as they had been during the old master’s easy-going and indulgent lifetime.

Related Characters: Armand
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Armand Aubigny is a different type of master of L'Abri than his father was. This passage contrasts the two men. Where the elder was "easy-going" and "indulgent," the younger is "strict." This difference in temperament directly impacts the two men's treatment of their slaves, as this passage establishes. Under the older Aubigny's ownership, the slaves were "gay," happy and light-hearted. This implies that they are no longer happy because of Armand's "strict" and presumably cruel treatment. This is a difficult passage because it seems, at first glance, to praise the older Aubigny in comparison to the younger. The truth of both these men's lives, however, is that they were both slave owners. They treated their slaves differently, but they both participated in a culture and economic structure built on slavery. A kind slave owner might not be physically violent, but he is still someone denying basic humanity and self-ownership to human beings.

The ending of the story also reveals that the older Aubigny had a very different understanding of the relationship between blacks and whites than his son, as he married and supported a woman with black heritage, whereas Armand treats his wife cruelly when he suspects her heritage. But this does not change the truth of the elder's position in society as an Aubigny. He is an upper-class white man and a slaveholder, and the fact that he loved a light-skinned woman with black heritage does not erase the reality that he also owned black slaves. The mere fact that Armand does not know about his own heritage reveals the racism that pervades the Aubigny family, where both mother and father are ashamed to reveal their child's black heritage. 

“…he hasn’t punished one of them—not one of them—since baby is born. Even Négrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg that he might rest from work—he only laughed, and said Négrillon was a great scamp. Oh, mamma, I’m so happy; it frightens me.”

Related Characters: Désirée (speaker), Madame Valmondé , Armand, Baby
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée speaks to her mother about the change that has come over Armand since the birth of their child. She measures this change in terms of the treatment of his slaves, and his notable kindness reveals that in the past he has been far from kind toward his slaves. Désirée says that Armand "hasn't punished one of them" and includes an example of a man, Négrillon, who once might have been punished for evading work, but who was now only laughed at. The fact that one of Armand's slaves would feign injury to take a break from work--and that this behavior would once have been punished--is a telling revelation. It is clear that Armand (like most slaveowners) sees his slaves as less than human because of their blackness, and he takes his ill temper out on them. If he is more indulgent after the birth of his child, this seems to be a change based on his own whims and moods, not any fundamental change of heart or worldview on his part. The slaves are not treated fairly, but subjected to Armand's caprice. 

Désirée does not criticize Armand. She sees the change in him and praises him, and she describes her current state as one of almost frightening happiness. She sees Armand's change as permanent, and as the result of his love for her and their child. Her love for Armand blinds her to truth about his character, which is that he is cruel and erratic. She does not imagine that he could turn this cruelty on her, and instead remains hopelessly idealistic about his nature.

Marriage, and later the birth of his son had softened Armand Aubigny’s imperious and exacting nature greatly. This was what made the gentle Désirée so happy, for she loved him desperately. When he frowned she trembled, but loved him. When he smiled, she asked no greater blessing of God.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand, Baby
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée's comments to her mother about how Armand has changed in his treatment of his slaves are strongly biased in Armand's favor, but the narrator also states the change that has come over Armand since the birth of his son. Armand's nature is "imperious" and "exacting." His need to control others is clear from his introduction into the story, in which he falls obsessively for Désirée, and overcomes all obstacles to "have" her. Désirée, on the other hand, is "gentle" and in love. Her soft personality and love cause her character and her emotions to be shaped by Armand's moods. Armand fluctuates from anger to happiness, and Désirée fluctuates in response. 

Désirée's subservience to Armand show the inherent sexism of this story's setting. At this time period, a woman was expected to shape her life around her husband's needs and desires, and Armand and Désirée exhibit this to an extreme degree. Désirée's love for Armand blinds her to anything other than his needs and moods. She does not have an external source of happiness or fortitude other than her husband. This dependance then prepares the reader for the extreme impact that Armand's rejection will have on Désirée. Not only is Armand more powerful than Désirée as a man in this sexist society, but he is more powerful than her as a wealthy man. Armand is the source of Désirée's happiness, but also the source of her livelihood. All her possessions were purchased by him. At this point Désirée is still seen as white, and thus has far more privileges and rights than non-whites in her society, but at this point her life is still almost entirely controlled by Armand. 

Then a strange, an awful change in her husband’s manner, which she dared not ask him to explain. When he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out. He absented himself from home; and when there, avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse. And the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves. Désirée was miserable enough to die.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand, Baby
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée is closely attuned to Armand's whims and moods, and so she immediately observes when her husband begins to change in his behavior toward her. She sees him avert his eyes when she speaks to him, and she feels that he is intentionally avoiding her. In contrast to his earlier kindness toward his slaves, he begins to treat them with extreme hostility and cruelty. This new phase of unkindness makes Désirée "miserable enough to die." Armand's true nature is revealed, in contrast to Désirée's loving hopes for his character. When he was happy and pleased with his wife and child, he was kind. But when he is unhappy, he is vicious. Désirée does not know the reason for his unhappiness, but she deduces that it has to do with her and her child. Armand's ability to punish Désirée and his slaves shows the power he has over the people around him. 

Armand's power is threefold: he is white, male, and wealthy. When he is unhappy, his mistreatment of others shows the intersection of these three sources of power. He has power over his wife as a man in a sexist society. He has power over his slaves as a white in a racist society. And he has power over both his wife and his slaves as a wealthy man in a class-based society, in which both wives and slaves do not have a source of income. Because Armand controls his wife and his slaves' livelihoods, he is free to treat them however he would like. They don't have alternative options for survival other than dependence on him. 

"Armand,” she panted once more, clutching his arm, “look at our child. What does it mean? tell me.”
He coldly but gently loosened her fingers from about his arm and thrust the hand away from him. “Tell me what it means!” she cried despairingly.
“It means,” he answered lightly, “that the child is not white; it means that you are not white.”

Related Characters: Désirée (speaker), Armand (speaker), Baby
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée speaks to Armand after she sees that her child looks surprisingly like the little black boy working in her home. She confronts Armand with distress and confusion. Does Désirée truly not understand what her child's appearance means? Or is she simply unwilling to speak the truth aloud? Or is she so guided by her husband's words and authority that she does not accept the truth until she hears it from him? Regardless of her motives, Désirée's unhappiness is clear as she clutches Armand's arm and cries "despairingly." Armand's words and actions are equally negative, as he "coldly" removes her hand from his arm. The actions of both parents express horror at their child's appearance. This shows the inherent racism of characters who are deeply unhappy to have a black child. 

Armand's choice of words reveals his sexist (as well as racist) thinking. He states first that "the child is not white," and follows this with the immediate assumption that Désirée is not white. His words are an accusation, as he places the blame for the child's appearance entirely on his wife. He sees his wife as less important than himself and his wealthy, seemingly well-established (meaning "pure" white) family. His own family seems to him to be beyond reproach or suspicion, so instead he accuses Désirée for her past and her heritage without any proof. The irony of this, of course, is that it is actually Armand's heritage that is black. His false assumption shows the faults of his judgment and character that are shaped by racism and sexism—but also the inherent absurdity and stupidity of the very idea of a rigid racial hierarchy, since no one is "pure" anything, and no race is "inferior" to any other.

“It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair,” seizing his wrist. “Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,” she laughed hysterically.
“As white as La Blanche’s,” he returned cruelly; and went away leaving her alone with their child.

Related Characters: Désirée (speaker), Armand (speaker), Baby, La Blanche
Page Number: 192-193
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée attempts to argue against Armand's assumption that she is part-black by pointing out her own features. The light color of her hair, her gray eyes, and her fair skin are cited as evidence of her white heritage. These pieces of evidence are presented by Désirée as talismans to protect her from Armand's judgment and rage. The ironic moment of this passage is the comparison Désirée makes between her skin shade and Armand's skin shade. This moment subtly foreshadows the truth revealed at the end of the story: that the black heritage visibly expressed in the baby is from Armand's family, not Désirée's family. Armand's misjudgment and cruel treatment of Désirée after he assumes she is partially black are answered in a fatalistic way by the end of the story. Armand, who has profited from racism the most out of all the characters in the story, leading to an elitist understanding of his identity, must confront the fact that he is part of the very group of people he looks down upon. 

Armand's parting statement compares Désirée's skin to La Blanche's skin. La Blanche, although she receives very little time and attention in this story, is presumably full-black and a slave belonging to Armand. Armand's statement implies that he sees no difference between a woman who is part-black and one who is full-black. Any blackness at all characterizes a woman as someone who is unworthy of being his acknowledged and loved wife—and is instead only his property.

“My mother, they tell me I am not white. Armand has told me I am not white. For God’s sake tell them it is not true. You must know it is not true. I shall die. I must die. I cannot be so unhappy, and live.”

Related Characters: Désirée (speaker), Madame Valmondé , Armand
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée pleads with her mother to protect her against the accusation that she is not white. This is treated as an accusation, of course, for it is clear that being "not white" is an extremely negative thing in this society. Désirée's plea of innocence seems like a plea from someone accused of a horrible crime, as she repeats variations of "tell them it is not true." Although the reader has only witnessed Armand's accusation, Désirée also refers to a generic "they" and "them." This pronoun seems to encompass all of white society. Désirée speaks collectively of a group that is now excluding her. Armand's exclusion and cruelty may be the most immediate, but Désirée's words are a reminder that any doors of white society would be closed to her now. Her social class will no longer accept her in a society in which blacks are perceived to be far less important than whites, no matter their gender or class (although at this point in history, all black people in America are of the same class). 

Désirée's unhappiness is so extreme as to lead to her statements that she "must die." This is dramatic foreshadowing, as Désirée later walks into the bayou with her baby, never to return. At this point, her unhappiness might seem like overstatement, but the fact that she commits suicide because of her potential racial heritage confirms her statements in this passage. Her unhappiness is the direct cause of her death. This end result of Armand's accusation shows Désirée's complete powerlessness, particularly now that she is assumed to be black. As a woman and wife, her life revolves around Armand, and the only power or leverage she ever had with him was her beauty and her perceived whiteness.

He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife’s soul. Moreover he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Armand, in contrast to Madame Valmondé, has a negative understanding of God and believes Him capable of intentional and unjust harm. He sees the truth about his child as a cruel blow, and he has a sense of having been wronged by the powers that be. This shows Armand's twisted thinking. He sees a black child not as his responsibility, and not even as "punishment" for his wrongs, but as an uncalled-for injustice against himself. He is never critical of himself and immediately places blame on others, be this God, his wife, or blackness itself. Furthermore, he feels it necessary to strike back at God for his treatment, and does so by mistreating his wife. This twisted logic might occur because Désirée's goodness is easy to attack, or because he knows he has the power to make Désirée unhappy. Armand's true nature, if ever in doubt, is now clear. 

In addition, this passage explains that Armand no longer loves Désirée because "of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name." Armand's love for Désirée is crushed by her having offended his family name. This shows where his priorities lie. Furthermore, this passage, and perhaps Armand himself, acknowledges that her offense was "unconscious." Désirée had no way of knowing her heritage, yet Armand treats her as if she had intentionally brought shame to his family. In this society, being associated with blackness brings shame upon whites, who see their superiority to blacks reinforced by their high social class and "good" family name. 

In the center of the smoothly swept back yard was a great bonfire. Armand Aubigny sat in the wide hallway that commanded a view of the spectacle; and it was he who dealt out to a half dozen negroes the material which kept this fire ablaze. A graceful cradle of willow, with all its dainty furbishings, was laid upon the pyre, which had already been fed with the richness of a priceless layette. Then there were silk gowns, and velvet and satin ones added to these; laces, too, and embroideries; bonnets and gloves; for the corbeille had been of rare quality.

Related Characters: Armand
Related Symbols: Fine clothes, The Bonfire
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Désirée and the baby have vanished from Armand's life, he removes all physical traces of them by burning their belongings in a bonfire in his yard. This is one of the most symbolic passages in the story, particularly because the bonfire that consumes everything echoes the initial description of Armand's passion for Désirée, which was like "a prairie fire." Armand continues to live his life dramatically—just as he claimed Désirée by showering her with gifts and marks of his wealth, so does he reject her when she no longer has value, and he destroys the gifts he once gave her.

Only Armand, of all the characters in the story, has the luxury of destroying items like silk and velvet gowns or gloves and bonnets. He was obviously able to afford these luxuries, and the fact that he can dispose of them casually shows his privileged lifestyle. These items are also all distinctly feminine and associated with women's beauty. Armand, who saw Désirée as a beautiful object, gave her feminine gifts to enhance her allure. He confines her to the ornamental role of a woman in this sexist society and his chosen gifts highlight this. 

Ironically, Armand is directing the work in the yard, but not laboring himself. The items are piled into the bonfire by his slaves. In this scene, Armand exhibits the intersectional relationship of sexism, racism, and classism in this society. He is in control of his slaves because of their race and his wife because of her gender, and he is able to destroy luxury items because of his wealth. 

“But, above all,” she wrote, “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”

Related Characters: Madame Aubigny (speaker), Armand, Monsieur Aubigny
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

The short story ends with this plot twist, in which Armand discovers a letter from his mother to his father that reveals the truth of his black heritage. His mother was part-black, a fact which she hid from Armand. This ending is dramatically ironic, because it reveals the misjudgment Armand made in accusing Désirée's heritage rather than suspecting his own. As a wealthy white man, he never considers that he could be anything less than perfect, according to his own standards and society's standards (which assumes that whiteness equals purity). This reveal of the truth seems to be Armand's ironic fate, and a type of justice is served when Armand, who mistreated others for the color of their skin, must now confront his own black heritage. 

The language of this passage reinforces the pervasiveness of slavery in this society and the incredible cruelty of this practice. Madame Aubigny is grateful that her son can live free from the shame of knowing his race. She refers to blacks as "the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery." She knows that the treatment of her race is a type of curse, and she sees Armand's "escape" from this as blessing from "the good God." Like Madame Valmondé, she loves her child and wants to protect him in an environment that is cruel toward a whole race of people—but she makes no effort to help those who are actual slaves, or who have no option of "passing" as white.

Ironically, the similarity between Armand and the slaves he mistreated is not so great as he once supposed. This shows the incredible superficiality and arbitrariness of racism and classism, where one man wields ultimate power over others... but ultimately those "others" are people with whom he shares the same heritage. 

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Armand Character Timeline in Désirée’s Baby

The timeline below shows where the character Armand appears in Désirée’s Baby. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Désirée’s Baby
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
...years later, she was standing near the same stone pillar where she was found when Armand Aubigny rode by and fell in love with her at first sight. Like all Aubignys,... (full context)
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
Monsieur Valmondé did not object, but he did try to caution Armand about Désirée’s unknown past. When reminded that the girl had no true family or family... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
...her homeland. The house has a steep roof and is overshadowed by large oak trees. Armand’s rule has been different than his father’s. Under the late Monsieur Aubigny’s indulgent leadership, the... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
...she says that the child has indeed grown, and then she asks her daughter what Armand says about the baby. Désirée’s expression is one of pure happiness. She exclaims that Armand... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
Désirée continues, lowering her voice, and confides in her mother that Armand has not punished any of his slaves since the baby’s birth. She says that Négrillon,... (full context)
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
...suspicious moods of the slaves as well as the unusual visits from unexpected neighbors. Then Armand undergoes a dramatic change. He no longer looks directly at Désirée and he goes out... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
Armand enters the room, but does not acknowledge Désirée and begins looking through some papers on... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
...it is a lie, and points out her brown hair and gray eyes. She grabs Armand’s wrist and places her hand alongside his, pointing out that it is fair, and even... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
Désirée takes the letter from her mother into Armand’s study and presents it to him. Armand silently reads the letter and does not speak.... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
Désirée turns away and leaves, hoping at each moment that Armand will ask her to stay. She says good-bye, but Armand does not answer. He considers... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
A few weeks later, a large bonfire is built in the backyard of L’Abri. Armand sits in the back hallway and gives instructions to a dozen slaves who tend and... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
The last thing Armand wants to add to the bonfire is a package of letters from Désirée to himself,... (full context)