The Reality of Women in “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin uk
Kate Chopin was known for celebrating women’s independence long before the beginning of feminist activity. The novelty of Chopin’s writing lies in the choice of issues she discusses. Picking a book of a 19-century writer, the reader’s expectations are tuned to a Victorian or Romantic narrative, but one gets a modern approach best associated with the 1900s. Realism of Chopin’s writing stems from controversial modern subjects. Chopin uses the story, “Désirée’s Baby,” as well as her own personal experience to illustrate society’s persistent problem with racial prejudice, male dominance, and oppression of women in Southern culture.
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“Désirée’s Baby” touches the problem of the consequences of racism. The tender nice young woman is treated cruelly and unkindly by her violent husband because their newly born baby is not as white as he should be in a decent Southern family. Through details, Chopin reveals how much women were underappreciated and taken for granted. With a few pen strokes, Chopin paints the picture of a self-centered man who cares only about himself. Knowing Désirée for many years, Armand unexpectedly felt passion for her, “That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love, as if struck by a pistol shot” (Chopin 551). Refusing to be practical and think about Désirée’s “obscure origin . . . Armand looked into her eyes and did not care” (Chopin 551). Armand is extremely egotistic. He regards the situation with the baby only from his viewpoint not caring about Désirée’s feelings: “He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him” (Chopin 554). At the same time, it never occurred to Armand that his treatment of Désirée is unfair and unacceptable for a husband. On the contrary, being rude and rejecting Désirée, Armand believed that “he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife's soul” (Chopin 554).
Armand easily objectifies Désirée. It was not so long ago that he did not even want to hear about her dscent claiming it was not important. Meanwhile, now, “he no longer loved her” (Chopin 554). The reason for such an appalling change of heart is not infidelity or some other kind of an insult a wife can inflict but the wrong ancestors. Just as for the longest time women were held accountable for their babies’ sex, Désirée is blamed for giving birth to a yellow child: “That the child is not white; it means that you are not white” (Chopin 553; italicized by me). Armand fails to remember that both parents are responsible for their children. However, in a patriarchal society, the blame is usually on a woman. Women are associated and defined by home (Worton 106). Children are part of that circle, as well. Therefore, according to the silent agreement of the male-dominated society, women are in charge for all aspects of children’s lives, including their sex, color, and appearance.
The reality of mixed-race relationships on the Aubigny plantation and of the sexual exploitation of female slaves by their owners is strongly implied in “Désirée’s Baby.” Castillo states, “As always with Chopin, the violence of interracial sexual relations simmers beneath the surface of the story” (71). The attentive reader may turn attention to the references to Armand’s “dark, handsome face” and much darker skin than Désirée’s (Chopin 552, 554). Armand’s mother died in Paris and, in many cases, the mixed-race sons of the plantation owners were sent to France and educated there (Castillo 70). Furthermore, when Désirée sees that her baby is of a different color, she notices it in comparison to a “yellow” nurse La Blanche’s child (Chopin 553). Désirée said to her mother that when her baby wails, her doting husband “heard him the other day as far away as La Blanche’s cabin,” but it was never mentioned what Armand was doing there (552). Thus, Désirée’s shock could be induced by the fact that due to Negroid features, the two children may share the same father or both – by her husband’s infidelity and his cruelty in claiming that itt is Désirée who is not white. The figure of La Blanche is also interesting by its subtle presence. Elphenbein argues that Chopin sometimes uses that method of avoiding the direct mentioning of women characters of mixed race. However, through their subtle employment, she illuminates the plight of the main character and assists the reader in understanding the relationships between masters and slaves in the antebellum South (Elphenbein 178).
Motherhood is an important theme in many of Chopin’s stories (Worton 110). Not desiring to continue an infamous living of a woman who gave birth to a colored child, Désirée does not abandon her child to the uncertainty of his fate. She takes him along to the void, thus fulfilling her motherly duty the way she understood it. Unlike more active female characters in At Fault and stories such as “A No-Account Creole,” “Athénaïse,” or “The Storm”, Désirée accepts her fate passively and is not an ardent rebel against patriarchal oppression the way she might be. Chopin’s “Désirée’s Baby” ends in death. This time, Chopin portrays not a person who strives for freedom but a woman who is unable and unwilling to protest and to conquer her freedom and dignified treatment.
In addition, Chopin also pays attention to women’s loyalty to female. In “Désirée’s Baby,” the main character is ordered to leave home by her violent husband, but her mother urges her to come to her parents: “back to your mother who loves you” (Chopin 554). However, the fact that she never returned to her adoptive family, which accepted her as she was, demonstrates the degree to which multiracial relationships were ostracized by the society. Therefore, the woman prefers to commit a suicide than to live with the colored baby being rejected by her husband.
Chopin is to be praised as an excellent storyteller as she presents information wisely. By the end of the story, the reader falsely assumes that the color of the baby is really due to Désirée’s unclear origin.
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