Désirée’s Baby

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L’Abri Symbol Icon
The plantation house that belongs to the Aubigny family exhibits physical characteristics that symbolize the unhappiness that has occurred and will occur in the home. Madame Valmondé notices the house’s somber appearance when she goes to visit Désirée. The house has a Gothic feel, with shadows cast by trees and a low roof. These physical indications of darkness and concealment symbolize the acts of darkness and concealment that have taken place in the home: Madame Aubigny has concealed the truth of her identity from her son and the world, and the wealth of the family has been built on the labor and enslavement of others. Armand’s cruel treatment of his slaves has occurred on this estate, and he will turn this cruelty on Désirée during the story, leading to her despair and death. The house’s appearance echoes the acts of physical and emotional cruelty that it conceals.

L’Abri Quotes in Désirée’s Baby

The Désirée’s Baby quotes below all refer to the symbol of L’Abri. 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

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. 

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L’Abri Symbol Timeline in Désirée’s Baby

The timeline below shows where the symbol L’Abri 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
...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 shadowed appearance of the house. The house... (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... (full context)