Désirée’s Baby

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The Bonfire Symbol Analysis

The Bonfire Symbol Icon
At the end of the story, Armand burns Désirée’s possessions. The bonfire symbolizes both Armand’s anger and desire to rid himself of Désirée, as well as his passion for his lost wife, which was described as “a prairie fire” at the beginning of the story. A bonfire destroys and erases. Yet this bonfire also brings to light the truth of Armand’s past, as he discovers the letter from his mother that reveals her identity as a black woman. Therefore, the bonfire not only symbolizes Armand’s desire to erase Désirée, but also acknowledges the great misjudgment that Armand has made. Before building the bonfire, Armand has already destroyed his marriage, his wife, and his child because of his prejudiced assumption. The bonfire, which is created by Armand to destroy objects, shows that Armand has also created—and is responsible for—the destruction of his family.

The Bonfire Quotes in Désirée’s Baby

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

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.

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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. 

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The Bonfire Symbol Timeline in Désirée’s Baby

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bonfire 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
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... (full context)