Désirée’s Baby

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Madame Valmondé Character Analysis

A childless woman who adopts a baby abandoned at the gate of her husband’s plantation in Louisiana. The Valmondés raise the baby, who they name Désirée, as their own child, and Madame Valmondé considers the child’s arrival to be an act of Providence. The short story begins with Madame Valmondé’s visit to a grown and married Désirée who has recently had her first child. Madame Valmondé’s love for her daughter is boundless (in stark contrast to Armand, even after it appears that Désirée may have a mixed racial heritage.

Madame Valmondé Quotes in Désirée’s Baby

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

In time Madame Valmondé abandoned every speculation but the one that Désirée had been sent to her by a beneficent Providence to be the child of her affection, seeing that she was without child of the flesh.

Related Characters: Madame Valmondé , Désirée
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

When Monsieur and Madame Valmondé discover an abandoned baby at the gate of their estate, the wealthy couple decide to raise the child as their own. Despite the child's mysterious beginnings, Madame grows to love the girl as unconditionally as if she were her biological child. This unconditional acceptance of the child continues even through the challenges of the short story. This is notable, because Madame Valmondé does not exhibit the same prejudice as other white characters in the treatment of her daughter. When Désirée's racial heritage is called into question, Madame Valmondé continues to love her unconditionally. Love, for this character, trumps prejudice, even socially-ingrained prejudice. 

Madame Valmondé's love is rooted in her faith and belief in a God who decides one's fate. She sees Désirée in the positive light of a gift from "Providence." She also refers to Providence as "beneficent," meaning that God intends good things to come to Madame Valmondé. She sees Désirée's appearance in her life not as the result of chance, but of divine intervention. It is her fate to find a daughter rather than to have a biological daughter. Other characters, most notably Armand, understand Providence and fate differently in this short story, but Madame Valmondé's character presents the most optimistic view of both love and fate. She sees God as entirely good, and her love for her daughter is untainted by the existing racial prejudices of this location and time period. In contrast to other characters, Madame Valmondé shows the ideal versions of love and the "blindness" of love. 

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When she reached L’Abri she shuddered at the first sight of it, as she always did. It was a sad looking place….The roof came down steep and black like a cowl, reaching out beyond the wide galleries that encircled the yellow stuccoed house. Big, solemn oaks grew close to it, and their thick-leaved, far-reaching branches shadowed it like a pall.

Related Characters: Madame Valmondé
Related Symbols: L’Abri
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Madame Valmondé travels to L'Abri, the estate of Armand, to visit her married daughter and the couple's new baby. This passage describes the physical appearance of L'Abri, as well as Madame Valmondé's negative reaction to it. The descriptive language characterizes L'Abri as a dark and forbidding place, reminiscent of the Southern Gothic genre. The roof forms the shape of cowl, a concealing hood, and the trees that surround it cast the house into perpetual shadow. For such a short story, significant descriptive time is spent characterizing L'Abri, which indicates the importance of the house and setting to the narrative of the story.

L'Abri is a place of wealth and extravagance for its white inhabitants, but this luxurious lifestyle has been built at the expense of the family's black slaves. The house also shows the relationship between classism and racism, because its wealth is possessed by one race of people at the expense of another race of people—at this time period, there were no wealthy African Americans. Blacks are subjected to ill-treatment, poverty, and slavery at the hands of the affluent (and even poor) whites.

Madame Valmondé shudders at the "sad-looking" L'Abri, but she is responding to more than the house's appearance. Its ominous appearance seems representative of the horrors that have happened there, where Armand is a strict master over his slaves. 

“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. 

“…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.

“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.

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Madame Valmondé Character Timeline in Désirée’s Baby

The timeline below shows where the character Madame Valmondé 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
On a beautiful day in mid-nineteenth century Louisiana, Madame Valmondé drives to the neighboring plantation to visit her adopted daughter Désirée and her daughter’s new... (full context)
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
...who had crossed the river near the planation that very day leave her behind? As Madame Valmondé grew attached to the child, she abandoned all concerns about the girl’s past, believing, instead,... (full context)
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
The child, Désirée, grew up to be the pride and joy of the Valmondés. She became beautiful, kind, and loving. Eighteen years later, she was standing near the same... (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... (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... (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... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
...tells her mother that she will die because she cannot live with this much unhappiness. Madame Valmondé responds with a short letter that asks her daughter to come home to Valmondé. She... (full context)