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The Tragedy of Identity in Desiree’s Baby by Kate Chopin

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Literary analysis
  3. Conclusion
  4. Work Cited


Have you ever felt like you didn’t know who you were? Or felt like you didn’t know where you come from? Desiree’s baby is a short story written by Kate Chopin that gives an account of the racial landscape that existed in the nineteenth century before the civil war. The story is set in Louisiana, at a home of a slave owner, and the husband to Desiree, Armand. This is an account of how racial prejudices and slavery have shaped, remodeled, and to a great extent, disorganized the lives of the slaves as well as that of their owners.

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Racial identity stands at the core of this story, with the primary factor of being a slave or a master lying on the knowledge of one’s identity rather than on their race at its precursor form. Chopin, therefore, presents a case of a tragedy of identity, one caused not by one’s race but rather by their ability to identify as a particular race or their inability not to.

Literary analysis

Before the advent of slavery, race and thus racial identities were viewed as factors that defined the biological differences owed by different people around the world, the uniqueness of their cultures, their genetic variations and aspects of their cultures and beliefs. However, slavery brought forth yet another aspect of race, one that denoted between the superior and the inferior, majority and minority and the masters and slaves.

Desiree, before meeting and marrying Armand never questioned her identity, as Madame Valmonde raised her. At the time that Madame Velmonde had found her lying under the shade of a stone pillar, “she was nameless”. She, therefore, had no ties to any identity, and Madame Velmonde has the opportunity to create in her any values, identity, and personality she wished. With the identity she instilled in her, she grew up to be an affectionate, gentle, beautiful and sincere, a figure that was admirable by many, including Armand. While she would have grown to become a slave, assault physically and sexually as her owner saw fit, she instead grew to be a delicate and attractive flower, worth of the care and love she received.

Desiree’s lack of identity, more so in her lack of a name, made even Armand crave to create in her whatever he would have wished for himself of a woman. He did not mind the absence of identity as he would grant her “one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana”. The marriage to this delicate flower had even made Armand lenient to the slaves, more so after the birth of his firstborn son. Desiree accounts that since the birth of their son, Armand had ceased whipping his slaves, even those who pretended to be injured to avoid work.

However, with this baby born of a known identity, the insecurities, and fears start emerging. They all begin with Madame Velmonde’s visit to see her grandchild. She takes the baby to a window that is full of light to carefully examine him and later inquires of whether Armand notices it or not. It takes only three months for the Satan of racial prejudice to crowd Desiree’s home, as the black slaves whisper within themselves and neighbors from far come to witness the abomination sired in the house of Armand. It is then that Desiree grasps the possibility of her identity, with utter denial and rejection of the thought that she could be black. The brightness in her marriage significantly fades, and all she is left with is an empty soul and the highest degree of contempt from her husband. Not until this, she had lived a fulfilling life.

A letter she sends to Madame Velmonde confirms her worst fears, and she leaves with her baby in her hand, with the permission, or rather relief of her husband. Rather than taking the high road to her mother’s, she heads into the bushes where she never comes out, possibly because she dies alongside her son. While she would have gone back to her home, and still be the loved daughter (or step-daughter), she was, without worrying of being enslaved, the shame in her identity, one fostered by the society she existed within could permit for a happier life, whether a slave or not.

Perhaps it is the thought that her son would soon grow to be a man with the strength that could be utilized in cotton farms that made her end both their fates. Being black came with a sealed fate to slavery, and as Armand’s mother noted in a letter, it was “a race that is cursed with the brand of slavery”. The very aspect of racial identity had Armand drowning in a wave of superiority only to notice that the race he so much despised was the very race that rooted his identity. That his notorious and strict adherence to the lanes defined by racial identity had cost him the love of his life, and his son.

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Racial identity is presented as a critical aspect of the actor’s lives, and the line that separated those who held the world by the hands, and those who lived at the mercies of their superiors. This identity is, however, presented not as a biological aspect of the people’s existence but rather as a product of the cognitive images they form of themselves regarding the two races. Race, in this case, is not only an aspect of skin color but also a depiction of one’s position in society. Unfortunately, the race so dreaded was, in fact, the very race that both Desiree and Armand belonged to. The only difference is that they were enslaved by their minds rather than by masters.

Work Cited

  1. Chopin K. Desiree’s baby. 1893. Pp. 538-542. Vogue magazine.

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