Kate Chopin is one of the wonderful representatives of the South American literature; her short stories depict vivid pictures of the life, social and cultural implications of the South, relationships between people and classes etc.
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The short story Desiree’s Baby is also a great example of what the life in the USA looked like after the Civil War; it shows not only the inhumane, racially biased and cruel attitude to African Americans, but the unequal position of women in the white male-dominated society.
The story of a quarter-black baby born in a young family of Desiree (a deserted child adopted by the family of Valmonde, and Armand Aubigny, the son of reputable aristocrats, slave-owners, shows how deprived both women and slaves were in the American post-war society, and opens new dimensions for considering the culture and dominating behaviors, attitudes, and values of the US nation at that time.
The beginning of the short story leaves no doubt about the attitude of Armand to slaves he owns: “Young Aubigny’s rule was a strict one, too, and under it his negroes had forgotten how to be gay, as they had been during the old master’s easy-going and indulgent lifetime” (Chopin 1).
The family of Armand raised their son in strictness, and gave him the full sense of his dominance, both over women and over slaves. The tough character of Armand is further underlined by the change Desiree noticed in her husband after the child’s birth:
“he hasn’t punished one of them—not one of them—since baby is born. Even Negrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg that he might rest from work—he only laughed, and said Negrillon was a great scamp. oh, mamma, I’m so happy; it frightens me.” (Chopin 2).
The present quotation shows that in fact absence of punishment for slaves was a rare, if not an impossible occurrence in the house of Aubigny. This is why Desiree was so happy about the child in their family – the young woman supposed that the birth of an heir would make her husband kinder and milder, both towards the slaves and towards her.
The subordinate position of Desiree in the family union also leaves no doubt as soon as the woman describes their relationships; the author calls Armand’s nature “imperious and exacting”, and Desiree herself confesses that “[w]hen he frowned she trembled, but loved him.
When he smiled, she asked no greater blessing of God” (Chopin 2). Such an attitude surely shows that Armand was never interested in what Desiree wanted and felt, as she had to adapt to his mood, behavior, and actions.
The second proof for the subordinate position of a woman in the American society after the Civil War was the indisputable belief in the male rightness, without a slightest doubt in the fact that in case something goes wrong, it all comes from a woman.
The assumption that Armand makes on seeing that his baby is not totally white is terrifying for Desiree because of its groundlessness: “It means,” he answered lightly, “that the child is not white; it means that you are not white.” (Chopin 3).
As one can see from this remark of Armand, the man never doubts the fact that his blood is unique, pure, and reputable. His family name of Aubigny and the status of a white house-owner, a husband, and simply a man give him the right to make shameful conclusions without even supposing the guilt from his side, from his family.
The attempt to prove their equality does not give any result for Desiree – she tries to show that the shame of being black is not from her side, as she has all inherited signs of white people: “Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,” she laughed hysterically. “As white as La Blanche’s,” he returned cruelly” (Chopin 3).
However, the fact that Desiree was an adopted child and her origin was disputable and unclear gives Armand the power to dismiss any suppositions about his dirty blood, and to claim about Desiree’s shameful roots. However, Desiree also understands that she may not be able to prove anything as she does not know her parents as well, and she has nothing more to do but to leave the family not to spoil the name of Aubigny so secured by Armand.
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The ending of the short story is quite eloquent for all readers, each of who may design the continuation on his or her own. The abused, frightened Armand gets rid of all things connecting him with his beloved wife (only because of the suspicion that she has dirty blood and black roots), but finally finds out that it is he who “belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery” (Chopin 4).
The ending seems very feminist in showing how white men act in an arrogant, racist and sexist way, while the problem may come from their own family. Some readers would think of what Armand will do next in the short story; for others it is enough to see the true state of affairs.
White men were dominating in terms of sex and race; the basis for their reputation was their name and skin color; for this reason such men as Armand were ready to do anything to never reveal their relation to black people.
It is hard to suppose that even on knowing the truth about his own origin Armand would return and apologize, return Desiree to his home and raise a beloved child together with her. He is more likely to burn the letter and forget about its contents than accept the idea that he is not dominating, not deserving the right for being totally white.
Hence, instead of a conclusion one can note that the cultural, social, and gender implications were quite strong in the South American literature of the described period, and Kate Chopin revealed the picture of the society of that time with vivid language and expressive images.
Chopin, Kate. Desiree’s Baby. Vogue Magazine, January 4, 1893. Web.