Imagine a world in which color defined all aspects of society including the love and devotion between human beings. Woefully, this distinction is quite easy to familiarize, as it has already torn apart families, ripped children from mothers arms, and left countless individuals without free will. An incredibly gifted writer, Chopin painted a picture in Desiree’s Baby of an invisible barrier; a physical divide between races that demanded to be wholly felt by the entirety of humankind. Apellated oppression, this blockade weighed heavily over marginalized individuals, leading many wishing for pale skin instead of ebony; a heartbreaking discord that broke the bond between soul and entity. Chopin use of foreshadowing, irony, and imagery highlights the underlying racial tension to express the horrifying truth that here, color of skin defined identity, genders were not equal, and the prominent barrier divided human beings, casting worth based on the color of skin.
Desiree’s Baby brings to life the haunting tale of a woman, orphaned at birth, to come to the home of the Valmonde’s, in which she became apart of the family. Quite beautiful, the young Desiree married the rich and prominent Armand Aubigny, who is harsh and cruel to his slaves. The two eventually have a child, whom Madame Valmonde comes to visit within the first pages. The story then centers on the child, who carries darker skin for a supposedly white baby. From the start, hints of a disastrous ending for the couple begins with Valmonde’s note of the house, in which she notes, “It was a sad looking place, which for many years had not known the gentle presence of a mistress…the roof came down steep and black like a cowl…Big, solemn oaks grew close to it, and their thick-leaved, far reaching branches shadowed it like a pall” (443).
Along with foreshadowing, imagery highlights this particular quote by diction, as the word to describe tree branches, pall, is analogous with a looming projection of death with branches like fingers, reaching for whoever is next. In further mentioning the lack of a woman’s presence for some time, Chopin is discreetly hinting that an underlying unease remains to be seen but is quite present inside the house. Its as if the audience is given an eerie omen of the unfolding story; once again, the house would contain a woman’s presence no more. Once Madame Valmonde picks up her grandson for quality time, the audience is given another hint of foreshadowing. She exclaimed, “This is not the baby!” to which Chopin furthered with, “Madame Valmonde had never removed her eyes from the child. She lifted it and walked with it over to the window that was the lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then looked as searchingly at Zandrine, whose face was turned to gaze across the fields” (444). Valmonde notices the child is not white, and while oblivious at first, Desiree does come to realize this truth later. The story further foreshadows that the race of the child will tear the Aubigny family apart. Chopin writes, “When the baby was about three months old, Desiree awoke one day to the conviction that there was something in the air menacing her peace. It was at first too subtle to grasp…then a strange, awful change in her husbands manner…” (444).
Chopin beautifully writes with an air of apprehensiveness that keeps the audience at the edge of our seats, as if waiting for the evil, curling branches to overtake the house from outside. Clearly, there is a heavy tension unfolding, and imagery brings to life this restlessness. Carefully connected to foreshadowing throughout the story, imagery further brought to life the depiction of Armand as well as hints to his skin color, which was not fully white. “But Armand’s dark, handsome face had not often been disfigured by frowns since the day he fell in love with her” (444). For the first time, visual imagery illustrates a man in love, filled with care and warmth for his Desiree and baby boy. Yet his kindness would fall in the split of a second, and his wrath was experienced by everyone in the house. Of course, this ironically foreshadows the ending for Armand and Desiree; the two separate from each other forever because Armand believes his wife, with unknown racial origin, is to blame for the child being of mixed race.
Again, since race determined identity, the audience catches a glimpse of this superficial, distorted version of “love” within society that dominated every household. If racial implications can easily cause a man to throw away his own wife and child for the sake of reputation, love resides neither in the man or his household. Imagery further portrays the husband and wife at the culmination of racial tension when Desiree confronts Armand about their child’s complexion, and he tells her plainly since the child is not white, that means Desiree is not white. While her origin is unknown, the assumption that she has caused their child to be mixed is an accusation stating that women are to be blamed for “wrong” such as this, and men within this particular society have the right to throw their family out with no warning. Undoubtedly, women were treated as lesser individuals in society; their opinions held no worth in the sight of white men, as they were merely beautiful possessions to produce offspring for the male. Imagery is tied in with foreshadowing during Desiree’s confrontation with Armand, as Desiree exclaims,“I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know my skin is fair…Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand” (445). This foreshadows the truth that Armand was indeed darker than Desiree because he was not fully white. Madame Valmonde writes to her daughter, begging her to come home. Imagery creates a heartbreaking scene in which Chopin writes, “When the letter reached Desiree…She was like a stone image: silent, white, motionless after she placed it there…in silence he ran his cold eyes over the written words…moreover he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name” (445). Because of the descriptive imagery, the reader becomes almost connected to Desiree’s terrified cries for understanding, and therefore, sympathize with her. Clearly, the audience is presented with a cold-hearted, evil spirited man; a misogynist that aimed to control his wife as if he owned her.
At the last page, Armand has burned all his wife and child’s belongings, a further tell-tale sign of possession; if he can destroy the belongings of his family, he will also, as a result, be able to rid himself of their memory. During this time he finds a letter addressed from his mother to father, stating she is grateful he will never know he is of mixed race. Subsequently, this is where irony twists the plot. From the beginning, Armand has treated his slaves with horrifying dehumanization and his wife and child as possessions until no longer useful. He determined worth by both race and gender, an inhumane practice that led to his own downfall in the end. After all, Armand would not determine his own worth based on such insignificant details, nor would he throw himself out of his own house for the sake of reputation. Consequently, the ironic twist of fate led the despondent house to fall back into the shadows, a solitude place with creeping, death-like branches; a place of wrought uneasy tension, with no family to fill its empty falls. In Chopin’s society, an invisible wall cascaded between not only white and black individuals, but women and men as well, one that concluded the identity of a human being. The color of skin, a superficial detail that determined the love between people, is still a dismal truth that rings an indelible familiarity today. Through her illustration of foreshadowing, irony, and imagery, Chopin criticizes society for the petrifying veracity that in this world, so-called worth is based upon skin color and women are deemed inferior to men. Her words foreshadow an undoubted truth; if society does not relinquish these inequalities, the future of humanity will emanate a hauntingly twisted depiction of love between human beings.
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