“Désirée’s Baby” depicts the ways in which the gender and economic inequalities present in mid-nineteenth century Southern society reinforced and intermingled with the inequalities of racist slave culture. Often these three issues are interconnected, as in the role of La Blanche, a slave of Armand’s, who also seems to have a sexual relationship with him. Armand’s position as a wealthy, white male allowed him to exercise complete control over his possession: a poor, black woman.
Chopin demonstrates that inequalities between the genders and vast disparities of wealth help enforce racism. Désirée, although white, is treated as a possession. Armand believes, correctly, that he can claim her by buying fine clothes and gifts for her. These marks of wealth reinforce Armand’s status, as well as categorize Désirée as a controllable object. Meanwhile, the division of her maternal care duties to others demonstrates Désirée’s wealth and position. The black nurse Zandrine cares for her baby. Her leisurely lifestyle reflects her wealth and position, which, although she is still subject to Armand’s will as a woman, is reinforced by her white skin.
The vivid resolution of the short story, in which Armand has Desiree’s possessions destroyed in a bonfire, shows how class, gender, and race interact culturally. Armand burns Désirée’s possessions to rid himself of memories and marks of her. Because these memories are physical objects (gifts purchased by Armand), his actions are again reducing Désirée to a possession – he believes she can be destroyed in his memory and removed from his life by destroying things. Furthermore, only a wealthy person could afford the luxury of burning possessions, and the things themselves – silk gowns, lace, bonnets and gloves – are marks of stereotypical feminine beauty. Finally, Armand does not burn the possessions himself, but sits and watches leisurely while the manual labor is completed by a dozen of his slaves. The erasure of Désirée—a woman and a possession—also showcases Armand’s wealth and his command of others on the sole difference of the color of his skin.
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism ThemeTracker
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism Quotes in Désirée’s Baby
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.
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.
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.
“This is not the baby!” she exclaimed, in startled tones.
“…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.”
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.
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.
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.
"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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”