Désirée’s Baby

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Baby Character Analysis

The child of Désirée and Armand. The child’s appearance, which reveals his black heritage, is the catalyst for the conflict in this story. Armand, ashamed to have such a child, blames Désirée for the child’s appearance and Désirée, losing hope, takes the baby with her as she leaves L’Abri and heads into the bayou.

Baby Quotes in Désirée’s Baby

The Désirée’s Baby quotes below are all either spoken by Baby or refer to Baby. 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

“This is not the baby!” she exclaimed, in startled tones.

Related Characters: Madame Valmondé (speaker), Désirée, Baby
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Madame Valmondé hasn't seen Désirée's baby in a while, and upon seeing the child she immediately recognizes his black heritage. She does not explain her suspicions to her daughter, but her surprise at seeing the child is apparent in this passage, as she exclaims with "startled tones." Presumably, Madame Valmondé is shocked to see a child who is so clearly part-black born of two parents who appear fully-white. She cannot believe this is the child, and her disbelief manifests itself as a rejection of this as the biological child of her daughter. Madame Valmondé's reaction is open to the reader's interpretation. When she says "this is not the baby," does she speak from pure confusion that the child appears so unlike its parents? Or does she speak with more judgment, with disgust at the child's clearly black appearance? Madame Valmondé exists in a context that is explicitly racist. Slavery is a part of everyday experience. Yet, she obviously seems more compassionate than Armand.

Madame Valmondé's startled reaction shows how obvious the child's heritage is, and yet the truth has not been recognized nor acknowledge by Désirée. Désirée's overwhelming love for her child blinds her to the truth. She does not look at her child with a critical eye, because she sees her child as perfect. This blindness seems to indicate that Désirée would think blackness in her child an undesirable thing, and that she does not see this "negative" attribute because she is overwhelmed by love. 

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“…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. 

One of La Blanche’s little quadroon boys—half naked too— stood fanning the child slowly with a fan of peacock feathers. Désirée’s eyes had been fixed absently and sadly upon the baby, while she was striving to penetrate the threatening mist that she felt closing about her. She looked from her child to the boy who stood beside him, and back again; over and over. “Ah!” It was a cry that she could not help; which she was not conscious of having uttered. The blood turned like ice in her veins, and a clammy moisture gathered upon her face.

Related Characters: Désirée, Baby, La Blanche
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée finally realizes the truth about her child's appearance when she observes him near one of La Blanche's little boys. The similarities and differences between these two children is apparent in this moment. Both are "half naked," which emphasizes the similarities between them in the moment when Désirée realizes how much they look alike. Despite their racial similarities, however, their different social classes are clear. The baby lies in expensive wraps on the bed, while the older boy works for the baby's comfort by fanning him. One lives a life of luxury, emphasized by the extravagance of a peacock feather fan, and the other lives a life of labor. 

A further connection between the boys can also be inferred by the story's context: it is possible that the two are half-brothers. A sexual relationship is implied between Armand and one of his slaves, La Blanche—and this boy is the child of La Blanche. Could he also be the biological child of Armand? This would highlight the two children's physical similarities in the moment that Désirée realizes how much they look alike.

Désirée reaction to this realization is one of shock and horror, as "the blood turned like ice in her veins, and a clammy moisture gathered upon her face." That her child appears black and must have some black heritage is a painful realization. Despite the prejudice Désirée has faced as a woman, she is not any more tolerant or open-minded than others when it comes to race. She is deeply ingrained with a racist worldview, which shows in her disgust with her child and unhappiness with herself when she believes Armand's assumption that she is part-black. 

"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.

She disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again.

Related Characters: Désirée, Baby
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée chooses death rather than living a life with the shame of being part-black. Shockingly, she also chooses this for her child, who she carries into the bayou with her. Désirée's death is not explicitly stated--perhaps she could have run away from Armand's home and survived--but the ominous language describing her disappearance indicates her death in the bayou. The bayou into which she disappears is "deep" and "sluggish," and this is linked in the same sentence to "she did not come back again." This link implies a cause and effect relationship: the murky bayou prevents her from ever returning. Désirée's choice shows the pressures of a society that is deeply racist. She knows how painful it will be for her to live in this society and she knows how painful it will be for her child, which is why she chooses his death as well. Furthermore, she has internalized the racist ideas of her society—they aren't just external forces—and so even she feels that she is suddenly inferior and inhuman because she is part-black.

Désirée's death also shows her dependence on Armand. Madame Valmondé tries to convince her daughter to return home with her baby. Armand has fully rejected Désirée, but Madame Valmondé's love for her daughter transcends the pressures of a racist society. But Désirée does not choose this "blind" love. It seems that Armand's rejection casts her into a deep depression. Perhaps she also knows that her mother will not be able to protect her from the judgments of society, even if she could provide her with a place to live separately from her husband on whom she relied for happiness and livelihood. 

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Baby Character Timeline in Désirée’s Baby

The timeline below shows where the character Baby appears in Désirée’s Baby. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Désirée’s Baby
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
...drives to the neighboring plantation to visit her adopted daughter Désirée and her daughter’s new baby. She reflects that it seems but yesterday that her grown daughter was a baby herself.... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Madame Valmondé has not seen her daughter or her baby in a month. She arrives at L’Abri and shivers, as she always does, at the... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Madame Valmondé greets her daughter inside the house where Désirée and her baby are resting on a couch, dressed in muslins and lace. A nurse sits by the... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
Madame Valmondé picks up the baby and carries him over to the light from the window where she examines him closely.... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
...confides in her mother that Armand has not punished any of his slaves since the baby’s birth. She says that Négrillon, one of the slaves, pretended injury to avoid work and... (full context)
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
Time passes. One day, when the baby is three months old, Désirée wakes up in the morning with the feeling that her... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
One afternoon, Désirée is sitting in her room watching her baby who is asleep on her bed, which appears like an extravagant throne with its satin... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
...Désirée goes to him and grabs his arm, and asks him to look at their baby. “What does it means?” She asks. Armand responds, as he coldly removes her hand from... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
...her daughter to come back to the mother that loves her and to bring her baby. (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
...not answer. He considers his silence another blow against his shameful fate. Désirée retrieves her baby from Zandrine, and, without an explanation, she takes the child and walks outside. It is... (full context)