Désirée’s Baby

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Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Intersection of Classism, Sexism, and Racism  Theme Icon
Love and Blindness Theme Icon
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Désirée’s Baby, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Theme Icon

The story ends with a twist of situational irony: Armand discovers too late that it is he (and not his wife) who has black heritage. Armand acted upon the misjudgment that Désirée, and her unknown past, were to blame for the appearance of their baby. Armand’s misjudgment reveals the prejudice that would cause him to blame his wife rather than himself. As a man, Armand sees himself as above women and is therefore inclined to blame his wife. As a wealthy man who owns and controls other people (both his slaves and Désirée), Armand sees himself as a source of mastery and truth, and so it never occurs to him to question his own past rather than that of his wife because she was presumably born into poor circumstances before she was abandoned as a baby.

Further, Armand considers himself above his black slaves and servants and yet, ironically, the story reveals his similarities to them and his own mother’s identity as one of them. The wording of the mother’s letter reinforces this irony, as Madame Aubigny refers to herself as black indirectly by saying she “belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.” Armand, himself a strict master to his slaves, therefore perpetuates exactly the “curse” upon the race to which he partly belongs.

Fate and providence appear throughout this story. For example, Armand considers his dismissal of Désirée a strike against the cruel fate that has made him father of a black child. Madame Valmondé, meanwhile, considers Désirée’s appearance at their gate as a baby as the act of Providence. Madame Valmondé could easily have seen what seemed to be a poor baby at her gate and brought it to an orphanage or made it a servant. But she saw the moment as an act of fate and responded with love. Armand, in contrast, responded to what he saw as fate with prejudice, and so destroyed his life, finding out the truth “too late.” In a way, then, Armand’s actions are similar to those of the “misjudgments” that occur in Greek drama – for instance when Oedipus accidentally kills his father and marries his mother, only to find out too late. But while Oedipus was truly driven by fate, with the outcome of his life prophesied at his birth, Armand is driven to his misjudgments by his own prejudice regarding race, gender, and economic inequality. Put another way, Armand’s misjudgments are, in a sense, fated by his acceptance of the culture of racial, gender, and economic inequality of the mid-nineteenth century South, and so the story condemns not just Armand but that culture as well.

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Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Quotes in Désirée’s Baby

Below you will find the important quotes in Désirée’s Baby related to the theme of Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate.
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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"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.

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.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Armand, in contrast to Madame Valmondé, has a negative understanding of God and believes Him capable of intentional and unjust harm. He sees the truth about his child as a cruel blow, and he has a sense of having been wronged by the powers that be. This shows Armand's twisted thinking. He sees a black child not as his responsibility, and not even as "punishment" for his wrongs, but as an uncalled-for injustice against himself. He is never critical of himself and immediately places blame on others, be this God, his wife, or blackness itself. Furthermore, he feels it necessary to strike back at God for his treatment, and does so by mistreating his wife. This twisted logic might occur because Désirée's goodness is easy to attack, or because he knows he has the power to make Désirée unhappy. Armand's true nature, if ever in doubt, is now clear. 

In addition, this passage explains that Armand no longer loves Désirée because "of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name." Armand's love for Désirée is crushed by her having offended his family name. This shows where his priorities lie. Furthermore, this passage, and perhaps Armand himself, acknowledges that her offense was "unconscious." Désirée had no way of knowing her heritage, yet Armand treats her as if she had intentionally brought shame to his family. In this society, being associated with blackness brings shame upon whites, who see their superiority to blacks reinforced by their high social class and "good" family name. 

“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.”

Related Characters: Madame Aubigny (speaker), Armand, Monsieur Aubigny
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

The short story ends with this plot twist, in which Armand discovers a letter from his mother to his father that reveals the truth of his black heritage. His mother was part-black, a fact which she hid from Armand. This ending is dramatically ironic, because it reveals the misjudgment Armand made in accusing Désirée's heritage rather than suspecting his own. As a wealthy white man, he never considers that he could be anything less than perfect, according to his own standards and society's standards (which assumes that whiteness equals purity). This reveal of the truth seems to be Armand's ironic fate, and a type of justice is served when Armand, who mistreated others for the color of their skin, must now confront his own black heritage. 

The language of this passage reinforces the pervasiveness of slavery in this society and the incredible cruelty of this practice. Madame Aubigny is grateful that her son can live free from the shame of knowing his race. She refers to blacks as "the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery." She knows that the treatment of her race is a type of curse, and she sees Armand's "escape" from this as blessing from "the good God." Like Madame Valmondé, she loves her child and wants to protect him in an environment that is cruel toward a whole race of people—but she makes no effort to help those who are actual slaves, or who have no option of "passing" as white.

Ironically, the similarity between Armand and the slaves he mistreated is not so great as he once supposed. This shows the incredible superficiality and arbitrariness of racism and classism, where one man wields ultimate power over others... but ultimately those "others" are people with whom he shares the same heritage.