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.
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate ThemeTracker
Irony, Misjudgments, and Fate Quotes in Désirée’s Baby
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.
"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.
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.
“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.”