A Theme Of Racism In Désirée’s Baby By Kate Chopin
Racism is a belief in a hierarchy among races. Race in the racist’s imagination is not only a group defined by physical traits. The race in his head is a social group with cultural, linguistic, or religious traits, which he considers inferior to the group in which he belongs. Racism is this tendency to consider that the intellectual and moral characteristics of a group are direct consequences of its physical or biological characteristics.
In the story Desiree’s Baby, by Kate Chopin, race plays a decisive role. Desiree and Armand’s relationship has always been surrounded by desire and love until they concluded that one of them must be mixed since they recognized that the baby was half African Americans. Armand placed his name and social position above his wife and son and condemned Desiree for being mixed, and she did not have much power to argue since she did not know of her heritage. However, there is a resistance by Désirée to blame that she suffers, arguing and using her apparent European physical characteristics, comparing her skin tone with Armand’s darker color and asking her adoptive mother to help prove her innocence.
Throughout the story, Desiree undergoes a process of objectification that happens when Armand breaks equality between them, throwing her into the field of distinction. He makes her feel inferior, takes away her identity, and the sense of belonging, which means, turning her into an object, which he did not want the society doing to him.
Racism is an almost unconquerable social barrier, even for Madame Valmondé, who is a loving mother. But looking at the half-African-American grandson, she reacts in surprise and question about Armand’s opinion, “Yes, the child has grown, has changed… What does Armand say?”.
Ethnicity is something that affects the daily lives of people all over the planet and has been affecting it for years. Ethnicity is formed by social aspects as a powerful force, capable of transforming not only the people but the world, and also capable of creating gaps between social groups, in which one or more groups benefit from it by being in a higher condition, and others get situated in a lower condition. From Kate Chopin’s work to modern society, society placed the race as a model for subordinating people, designating whites to the status of superior and not white to secondary conditions. Such a process remains operative today, as a stigma of the colonial period, even in a postcolonial reality. In Chopin’s work, belonging to the higher organization means control of a dominant force over a subordinate person.
The treatment towards black people, in the book and society today, during the humiliating and inhuman slavery, gave no dignity to the black-skinned citizen, who were recognized after many conflicts and battles, for freedom not only of life but also moral. For a successful person like Armand, being tied to these people (his family) would be a punishment, this is clear when Chopin states that “He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife’s soul. Moreover, he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name”.
Armand knew that such genetic inheritance determined the difference between being considered a human being or an object. Belonging to the upper class, he understood a boundary of social acceptance, in which the moral conception of freedom and citizenship was valid only for whites; the society excluded blacks from the democratic process. The half African-Americans were on the edge of social acceptance, depending on the physical traits and tone of the skin, these could be accepted (for a time) in white society, but Armand was not willing to lose his identity, and also suffer many damages and discrimination.
Society is like a puzzle, many pieces that become a big picture. However, we still need more time to understand that we all have the same role. There are no better pieces in a puzzle. All are essential to finish the game.
Yet, social class and opportunities are tied to race. Most jobs and social status are controlled by skin color. Throughout history, society had considered blacks a product or machine that their owners could buy and sell, and this is a reality that Armand is used to, so he prefers to sacrifice his own family to be considered part of that group he despises so much.
Racism has not disappeared from our society. Ethnicity still dictates the rules of social and professional relationships. Therefore, the theme of Kate Chopin’s story, Désirée’s Baby, is somewhat considered current because it exposes a subject still sensitive today in the United States and all over the world. Since the objectification of the black people did not end with the end of the civil war and the abolition of slavery.
African Americans have faced, and still face, a well-known enemy called: racism. The battle for their citizenship rights brought some achievements, for example, the segregationist laws were extinguished, access to education democratized, the right to vote guaranteed, and also gained space in various professional areas. However, discrimination based on skin color is still a reality in the daily life of black Americans.
Finally, it is essential to highlight the importance of literature in the fight against the objectification of African Americans, acting as an instrument of denunciation, reflection, and judgment.
There are a thousand ways in which the author could have ended her story, but she chose the one that left the greatest impression on readers and perhaps created an awareness in people about how serious social labels can be. I finish my essay using the words of Robert D. Arner, who states that “The antidote to the poison of racial abstraction that destroys Désirée, the baby, and Armand is love, a deeply personal relationship which denies the dehumanizing and impersonal categorization of people into racial groups”.
- Arner, Robert D. “Pride and Prejudice: Kate Chopin’s ‘Desiree’s Baby.’” The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 2, 1972, pp. 131–140. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26473994.
- Chopin, Kate. “Desiree’s Baby.” KateChopin.org. The Kate Chopin International Society,30 Jan. 2016. Web. Access date.
- “An Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen, and for Other Purposes.” Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen, & for Other Purposes, Aug. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=21212581&site=eds-live&scope=site.
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