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
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.