The work of Kate Chopin introduces us to the wealth, love, and self-prejudices of a
nineteenth-century extended family. In Desiree’s Baby, the Valmondes adopt Desiree, who was
abandoned at a stone pillar within their plantation as a baby. Having cared for and loved her as
their own, she later marries Armand– an equally wealthy young man—although cruel and self-
centered. They conceive and give birth to a baby boy who turns out to be black—yet they both
considered themselves to be white. Through the short story, Chopin compares and contrasts the
character of the wealthy in society. Some, like the Valmondes, are gentle and kind regardless of
their wealth and status, while others, like Armand, are only interested in using people for selfish
The theme of slavery has been used to heighten white people’s disregard toward their
black counterparts. Being white is associated with wealth, power, and admiration, while blacks
are said to be “cursed with the brand of slavery” (Chopin 4). Upon marriage, Desiree rests—even
the task of nursing her newborn belongs to a slave girl. On the other hand, Armand has had gay
sexual relations with La Blanche, a slave, as is seen where he gets out of the slave’s cabin. In
spite of all the abuse, La Blanche remains an object of ridicule, as seen when Armand claims that
his wife’s skin color is “as white as La Blanche’s” (Chopin 3). Through his harsh treatment of
slaves and the ultimate revelation that he too was black, Chopin portrays Armand as hypocritical.
Moreover, being black is shown to elicit feelings of financial insecurity. Upon realizing
that the baby is of mixed origin, Madame Valmonde is distressed but hides this fact to protect her
daughter’s feelings. Although both interested in ethnicity, the difference between Valmonde and
Armand's character is in their final decisions concerning Desiree. While Armand ends the
marriage, her mother welcomes her together with the baby to live with them. Later on, Armand
learns that he, and not Desiree, was of black origin. This stunning revelation shows that there is
no difference between black and white individuals but a mindset. It also shows the repercussions
of cruelty to servants, as Armand must live with the secret that he is black for the rest of his life.
Symbolism exists in the context of wealth, racial background, and people's character. The
'shadow' of a big stone pillar where Desiree was left is used to symbolize the uncertainty of her
origin. Not even her mother was utterly sure that she was purely white, despite her flawless
appearance. The ‘big stone pillar’ within their plantation symbolizes the power and affluence of
the Valmondes, and her presence there symbolizes that she had landed into a world of privilege
("Desiree's Baby…”). A bonfire is used to symbolize the virtual line between different races,
classes, and gender. Although the fire represented the end of their marriage, Armand was indeed
putting a difference between black and white people and men and women. And in rejecting his
black son, Armand denied himself. Additionally, burning Desiree’s beauty items shows that
Armand viewed her as a possession rather than a fellow person.
Although Armand's parents tried to keep the secret from him, he ended up learning of his
black origin more brutally. In protecting him from racism, his parents set him up for a more
severe crush with his fate. Why did his mother have to hide her true identity? And why did
Armand mistreat his slaves just because they were black? Was he not just as black? In answering
these questions, racism appears to be a curse, not only to black people but to the entire land.
Chopin shows that racism not only affects black people but society as a whole.
Chopin, Kate. “Desiree’s Baby.” (1893).
“Desiree’s Baby: Summary & Analysis.” LitCharts n.d.