Désirée’s Baby

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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.
Love and Blindness Theme Icon

Love, both romantic and familial, is a powerful transformative force in “Désirée’s Baby.” Love primarily works to soften characters, allowing them to care for other individuals and for their fellow human beings more broadly. Madame and Monsieur Valmondé are transformed when they discover an abandoned child and welcome her as their own despite her mysterious and, likely, impoverished background. Armand is also softened by his love for Désirée. Not only does he wish to marry a girl of mysterious origins, but he lavishes kindness and extravagant gifts on her. He is also changed (to a degree) in his treatment of other people, particularly his black slaves. Before his marriage he was considered a strict master, but after his marriage to Désirée, Armand ceases to punish his slaves. He even laughs when one man pretends to be injured to avoid work, as Désirée reports to her mother. Even Armand’s physical features change under the influence of his love for Désirée: his countenance is lightened and he smiles instead of frowning.

Love also has another, more subversive, transformative power in this text, which is particularly revealed through Désirée’s character—that of blindness to the truth. Désirée’s love for Armand causes her to overlook his faults and his cruelty. Even when Armand’s mood is sour, Désirée “trembled, but loved him.” Désirée’s blindness takes a more extreme form with respect to her baby. Even though other characters, including Armand and Madame Valmondé, observe the child’s features that indicate his black heritage, Désirée is initially blind to them.

While blindness is generally considered a negative thing, in “Désirée’s Baby” one might actually consider it a positive. Because it is when love isn’t enough to cause blindness that tragedy unfolds. Armand’s mother and father enforce blindness of his own heritage on her son, to protect him out of love, but in doing so allow Armand to believe in the stereotypes and hierarchies that cause him to abandon his wife. And it is when Armand “sees” the racial heritage of his son in its features the he abandons his love; and when Désirée sees the same that she abandons her life. In contrast, Madame Valmondé stands as a model of love, telling her daughter to come home to her mother who loves her even after it seems that Désirée might have a black racial heritage. But in the racist Southern world of the story, even such powerful maternal love is not enough.

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Love and Blindness Quotes in Désirée’s Baby

Below you will find the important quotes in Désirée’s Baby related to the theme of Love and Blindness.
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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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.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand
Related Symbols: Stone pillar
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée grows into a beautiful young woman, and it is this beauty that attracts the attention of her wealthy neighbor, Armand Aubigny. Armand falls in love with Désirée at first sight, which this story presents as "no wonder" due to Désirée's great beauty. Armand sees Désirée's beauty as her defining characteristic. At this time, women were primarily valued for their beauty, rather than for their intelligence or character. This is one example of the sexist treatment Désirée and other women (for example, La Blanche) receive at Armand's hands.

Désirée's location at the moment when Armand first sees her is symbolic: this is the site where she was found as an abandoned baby. The parallel between these two events is clearly intentional, as the narrator explicitly reminds us in this passage that this is the very same place where Désirée was found by the Valmondés. This site is a place of transition for Désirée. She found her first home here with the Valmondés, and now she finds her second home here with Armand. In both situations, it's worth noting, Désirée is passive. She is quietly waiting, and other characters arrive and decide to claim her. Throughout the story, Désirée's passivity reinforces the powerlessness of women in this society. The stone pillar is also a symbol of the wealth of the Valmondés, and their solid position as members of the upper class, as the pillar stands at the gates of their estate. Désirée is marked as belonging to this upper class when she stands near the pillar.

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.

“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.

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.

Related Characters: Désirée, Armand, Baby
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée's comments to her mother about how Armand has changed in his treatment of his slaves are strongly biased in Armand's favor, but the narrator also states the change that has come over Armand since the birth of his son. Armand's nature is "imperious" and "exacting." His need to control others is clear from his introduction into the story, in which he falls obsessively for Désirée, and overcomes all obstacles to "have" her. Désirée, on the other hand, is "gentle" and in love. Her soft personality and love cause her character and her emotions to be shaped by Armand's moods. Armand fluctuates from anger to happiness, and Désirée fluctuates in response. 

Désirée's subservience to Armand show the inherent sexism of this story's setting. At this time period, a woman was expected to shape her life around her husband's needs and desires, and Armand and Désirée exhibit this to an extreme degree. Désirée's love for Armand blinds her to anything other than his needs and moods. She does not have an external source of happiness or fortitude other than her husband. This dependance then prepares the reader for the extreme impact that Armand's rejection will have on Désirée. Not only is Armand more powerful than Désirée as a man in this sexist society, but he is more powerful than her as a wealthy man. Armand is the source of Désirée's happiness, but also the source of her livelihood. All her possessions were purchased by him. At this point Désirée is still seen as white, and thus has far more privileges and rights than non-whites in her society, but at this point her life is still almost entirely controlled by Armand. 

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.

Related Characters: Désirée, Baby, La Blanche
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

Désirée finally realizes the truth about her child's appearance when she observes him near one of La Blanche's little boys. The similarities and differences between these two children is apparent in this moment. Both are "half naked," which emphasizes the similarities between them in the moment when Désirée realizes how much they look alike. Despite their racial similarities, however, their different social classes are clear. The baby lies in expensive wraps on the bed, while the older boy works for the baby's comfort by fanning him. One lives a life of luxury, emphasized by the extravagance of a peacock feather fan, and the other lives a life of labor. 

A further connection between the boys can also be inferred by the story's context: it is possible that the two are half-brothers. A sexual relationship is implied between Armand and one of his slaves, La Blanche—and this boy is the child of La Blanche. Could he also be the biological child of Armand? This would highlight the two children's physical similarities in the moment that Désirée realizes how much they look alike.

Désirée reaction to this realization is one of shock and horror, as "the blood turned like ice in her veins, and a clammy moisture gathered upon her face." That her child appears black and must have some black heritage is a painful realization. Despite the prejudice Désirée has faced as a woman, she is not any more tolerant or open-minded than others when it comes to race. She is deeply ingrained with a racist worldview, which shows in her disgust with her child and unhappiness with herself when she believes Armand's assumption that she is part-black.