Racial Prejudice And Gender Roles In Desiree’s Baby By Kate Chopin
There hasn’t always been a time where social constructions have been accepted. In her story, Kate Chopin, as a Southern feminist author in the 19th century, examines Southern racism and the widespread abhorrence of miscegenation. This is most notable in her story of Desiree’s Baby. This story utilizes a variety of historic principals including racial prejudice and gender roles, to demonstrate its effect on families at the time period. Through her use of character development, setting, and symbolism, Kate Chopin demonstrates how racial prejudice and gender roles affected the outcome of the story.
This story takes place in antebellum Louisiana, where a young woman named Desiree and her husband Armand have a child. Desiree is Monsieur and Madame Valmondé’s adopted daughter, where no one knows who her real family is. She’s described as “beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere”, with straight brown hair, white color skin and gray eyes. She loves Armand and the son they have together. Armand Aubingy, Monsieur and Madame Aubingy’s son, is describes as having a “dark, handsome face”. At first, the newborn brings Armand a lot of joy and softens his hard manners. Everything changes once both have realized that the baby is not white. Armand notices earlier than Desiree and he becomes meaner to his slaves again and starts ignoring her. When Desiree notices the problem with the baby, she talks to Armand about it,
Armand is enraged and accuses Desiree of not being white. This strongly demonstrates the gender roles set in the story, were even though Desiree jokes and says “’Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,’ she laughed hysterically.” she is quickly shut down from Armand. Desiree is presented as vulnerable to whatever Armand wants, because her life depends on the social class of her husband and what makes her happy is his satisfaction. From the character development that I presented, there is also racial prejudice that can be seen. This is because there is no one who knows Desiree’s true background and so it is easy to assume she is the one not white.
This story takes place before the Civil War, in the southern state of Louisiana. This setting provides reasons for both racial prejudice and gender roles to be evident I the story. First, it took place before the Civil War, meaning slavery was legal. This makes it so that there is big shame in not being white. In the story, Armand disowned Desiree and the baby because he believed both of them weren’t white. Secondly, gender roles were very prevalent because of the time period, where a woman’s life depended basically the social class of her husband making her obey his every word. Woman’s jobs back then where to take care of the house and children, not bringing money to the house. It is also evident that what made women happy was simply the happiness of their husband, as seen where it says “…had softened Armand Aubigny’s imperious and exacting nature greatly. This was what made the gentle Desiree so happy, for she loved him desperately”. This shows why Desiree acted the way she did, listening to Armand. It demonstrates the power the man holds in the house, how easy it was to tell her to just leave.
The story includes many symbolic items, the one best matching the prejudice and gender roles would be the fine clothes. When Armand wants to marry Desiree, he makes sure she gets the finest gifts and clothes. Armand buys these objects in order to demonstrate his wealth and also how powerful his feelings are for this wedding. Through this action he shows that he thinks of Desiree as his best possession. He is very nice to her and is always providing her with gifts until there is a turn of events. At the end of the story Armand burns all the fine clothes and gifts that had once belonged to Desiree. To Armand, these objects remind him of here and so burning them is getting rid of the memories. It is also evident that the destruction of these rich gifts and clothes express his wealth.
In conclusion, the story of Desiree’s baby represents the effects of racial prejudice and gender roles through the author’s use of character development, setting and gender roles. Gender roles are portrayed through character development as it is evident that there is a strong social hierarchy in place the characters are well aware of. Character development also shows how there is a possibility Desiree is black because of her unknown background. The setting of this story can reflect both the racial prejudice and the gender roles since they correlate with the time period and location. Symbolism used by the author is also able to connect with both racial prejudice and gender roles through the stone pillar and fine clothes. Ultimately, all these parts are of the story are built in Desire’s baby is successful in demonstrating how racial prejudice and gender roles came in the family.
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