The Importance of the Distinction of Social Class and Racial Stability in the South in Desiree’s Baby, a Short Story by Kate Chopin
It is stories like this one that should have turned the southern racial and social structure on it’s head. It should have forced the people who subscribed to these racist principles to ask themselves, how fundamental are the differences between black and white people if they never had reason to believe that Monsieur Aubigny was multiracial? If his family could be successful and participate in high society, then it would stand to reason that there is no biological differences between these white socialites and their slaves. In my opinion, “Desiree’s Baby” troubles notions of southern social class and racial stability by illustrating the importance of these distinctions at the time, while simultaneously proving how insubstantial and trivial they are.
Monsieur Aubigny and Madame Valmonde are horrified by the thought that Desiree might not be white. Instead of realizing that race does not change a person or make them less worthy, Monsieur Aubigny denounces all feelings for Desiree and wants nothing to do with the baby. When Madame Valmonde sees the baby she is obviously shocked saying, “That is not the baby!”(Chopin,1073). Desiree, who is completely oblivious to why her mother is so appalled, assumes she is referring to the baby’s growth. The author intentionally makes it clear that Desiree does not initially recognise what makes the baby different, and is only wary when she sees that everyone is treating her and the baby differently. This is intentional to show how truly superficial this racial division is. Desiree can not live with herself when she finds out that she and the baby may not be white, yet she had never noticed it until Monsieur Aubigny pointed it out.
In the story, Desiree was described as “beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere,–the idol of Valmonde.”(Chopin,1072). Her mother remembers in this paragraph how Desiree came to her, and how she grew up to be a perfectly respectable young woman, despite her unknown origin. She goes on to recall Monsieur Aubigny’s immediate love for Desiree and how he too was able to ignore her lack of family name. It is clear that they are able to ignore Desiree’s unconventional presence in their high society lives, and even insist that this makes no difference in her temperament or beauty. There is a distinction made here about the great difference between low-born white people and people of color. Madame Valmonde says she loves her daughter all while indifferently noting that Monsieur Aubigny is harsh and strict with “his negroes”(Chopin,1073). There is no tie between the two for the people of this time period. Monsieur Aubigny’s love for Desiree originally suggests a more educated and liberal worldview, yet he is cruel to Desiree when he finds out that their baby is multiracial. These racial constructs and etiquettes they live by are illogical and are driven by notions that have no place in reality.
Like most of the stories we have read so far, “Desiree’s Baby” is written in a way that would have been acceptable at the time, but is now considered insensitive and racist. Although the short story speaks to the ludicrousy of the rigid Southern social and racial structure, it accurately portrays the racist reasoning of the people it’s depicting. You have to analyze the story carefully to see the critique of the social class and their perception of race. In conclusion, “Desiree’s Baby” complicates the social class and race relationships of the south by depicting a situation that accurately conveys the ambiguity of these constructs.
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It is stories like this one that should have turned the southern racial and social structure on it’s head. It should have forced the people who subscribed to these racist […]