The Architect of His Own Destruction
We all have secrets and insecurities and we all make mistakes. Many of us do our best to hide our imperfections with the hopes that no one may ever know of our flaws. Problem is our biggest enemy already knows. You see, we can hide from the rest of the world but there is no escaping one’s self. Most people don’t realize that there is no greater battle than the one going on inside of you. In the story, “Desiree’s Baby” by Katie Chopin, we are introduced to Armand. Armand is a man full of resentment towards himself and his hidden truths. He in turn, allows himself to blame others for his dismay, when in reality he is his own enemy. “Desiree’s Baby” conveyed Armand’s self-hatred and denial in the way he treated others and these themes ideally brought into play; the conflict, man vs. self. In the story, “Desiree’s Baby” the themes of denial and self-hatred are impeccably demonstrated through the utilization of literary elements such as setting and the inner conflict of the antagonist; Armand.
In the times of racism and slavery, being black was the burden that no one wished to endure. Having been black in those times meant inferiority, it meant being uneducated, enslaved and owned by the “superior” race. Whites were in charge and anyone of African descent were discriminated against; this meant people of biracial descent also. “Desiree’s Baby” was in fact, set in this time of oppression of the black race and this setting helped to develop its themes of self-hatred and denial. Armand; a white man and a slave owner, held a secret grudge against his slaves. Not the usual biased grudge of a white man to a slave but something greater, deeper even. In the story, Armand’s wife, Desiree implies that her husband was a cruel and unkind slave owner. While talking to her mother Desiree states: “he hasn’t punished one of them-not one of them-since the baby is born,” (Chopin, 2). Although she never names her husband as a bad master, she does insinuate her husband’s past dealing with his slaves. This may not seem of any great significance because most slave owners were uncouth when dealing with their slaves but as the story progresses Armand’s actions are accompanied by a greater purpose— vindication. He was a man set out to prove himself “white”. His cruelty and vengeance of his slaves wasn’t caused by his hatred for them, but actually his hatred for himself and the part of him that was connected to them. Although Chopin does not expose Armand’s African roots until the very last sentence of the story she cleverly foreshadowed the fact. The revelation of a mixed child as well as Armand’s sudden vengence for his slaves and the fact that his skin had been darker than his wife’s were all indications of his negro roots. It was obvious that Armand had in some way known of his true blood line but his fear of not being fully white triggered his denial and self-hatred.
Furthermore, had this story taken place in current times the thought of being partially black may not have had such an effect on Armand. In more modern societies people are accustomed to the concept of mixed races and things such as biracial dating but Armand did not have the luxury of this acceptance. It was either deny it and hate himself secretly or be exposed and lose the respect and life he had worked so hard for. Therefore, the fact that this story was set in a time when being black or half black or even a quarter black was socially unacceptable helped to justify its themes of denial and self-hatred.
Moving on, Chopin employed Armand’s character into the theme by creating a conflict between him and his self. As mentioned previously Armand was fearful of who he really was and subsequently took his anger out on his slaves and wife. “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.” (Chopin, 3). This quote from the story reflects the irony of Armand’s behavior towards his own wife. After the discovery that his child had African blood Armand blamed his wife; accusing her of being mixed. He assumed that God had been cruel and unjust to him when ironically he had been the cruel and unjust one; to Desiree. This quote was drawn from Armand’s thoughts that he had been justified in treating his wife in such a way after God had treated him so horribly. This man, although very aware of his wrong doing was far too conflicted within himself to care for anyone else. In the story, Armand goes from a man deeply in love with his wife to a man who can barely stand to be around her or their child. His wife nor his child were the actual cause of his resentment. It was caused by his insecurities and the fact that being around them only made it worse. In the story, there were many conflicts but Armand’s battle with himself had the strongest effect. Had he admitted that he was the one to blame the story may have had a different ending.
The story ends with the confirmation that Armand was indeed the one with African blood but it had been too late. Armand, so full of denial had told his own wife to leave and as a result she took her child and possibly ended both of their lives. He lost his family and his happiness because he was a fearful man. He did not know how to love himself so there was no way for him to love anyone else. “Armand looked into her eyes and did not care. He was reminded that she was nameless. What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?” (Chopin, 1). The misconception of his love for her is abundant in this quote because the moment her origin came into question Armand no longer felt so shameless. He may have known deep down inside that he bared the blood of a black ancestor but it was easier to blame Desiree. After all, she nor anyone else knew her true lineage. Armand could not accept his roots so he acted in a cowardly manner. He blamed his wife and lost his family but it only solved half of his problems. His son was no longer around to spark the curiosity of others or stir up gossip but that wasn’t the real problem to begin with. The absence of his son did not change his lineage or rid him of self-hatred and denial.
Chopin told a story of a cowardly man. A man who allowed himself to live a lie in order to be whom everyone else believed him to be. “Desiree’s Baby” was a story of many themes and literary elements but self-hatred and denial played a key role in the outcome. From the title alone it is easy to assume that the story would be about the child but the child played only a small part. The setting and conflict in this story helped Chopin to develop the themes of denial and self-hatred thus giving emphasis to the antagonist. Armand did his best to hide who he was but as usual his biggest enemy already knew. He hid his secrets and insecurities but in the end he destroyed himself. In closing, Armand may have hidden his secret well but the words; “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.” will always be with him. (Chopin, 4.)
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