Kate Chopin's Desiree's Baby Essay

1314 words - 6 pages

Stories about the tragic mulatto have conjured feelings of anger, racism, and sympathy since the 19th century. In Kate Chopin’s short story “Desiree’s Baby,” Desiree plays the role of the tragic mulatto. This is a person who believes they are white, but finds out that they are actually black. There are three categories of the tragic mulatto and often they are female. The first is a woman fair enough to pass for white. She falls in love with a white man, but her mixed identity is revealed and the story ends dreadfully. The second is a woman who appears white and hides her “mixed race status” by lying. She’s accepted as being European or Spanish. Once her identity is found out, she loses her place in the community. Lastly is a woman who is accepted and liked socially, but once her Black heritage is recognized, she is forced into slavery and is sexually dominated by her slave master. Desiree is a racial stereotype in the story because her ancestry is unknown. Peel states that “Desiree casts doubt on the meaning of race, sex and class” (Peel 223). Solely based on her looks, she is assumed white and adopted by a white family. When Armand, her husband, interprets their baby’s appearance, he assumes that “the child and the mother are not white” (225). Her missing identity forces her to act as the tragic mulatto. Racial identity is determined by family history where the assumption of race is through skin color.
The story takes place in an “antebellum Creole community ruled by institutions based on apparently clear dualities: master over the slave, white over black, and man over woman” (224). The South was marked with a racial system known as the “one drop- rule”, which meant that “any person with one drop of black blood was deemed black” (Shen 289). Armand is a great example of how important race and ethnicity was, “Confident that he is white, a male, and a master, he feels in control of the system” (224). Armand was a slave master and treated his slaves harshly. Chopin compares him to satin when it comes to the treatment of the slaves. Rather than being easy-going like his father, he loved to be the dominator and let his slaves know who was in charge. He was such a strict and furious master that the slaves had “forgot how to be gay” (Chopin 232). Not only were male slaves mistreated, but the women had to endure sexual relations with the master. Zandrine, a female slave, is described as a “yellow woman” (232). This indicates that the former slave master had to have sex with the female slaves to produce mixed children. Another sign of the master having sexual relations with the female slaves are shown when Desiree states that “Armand could hear the baby cry as far away as La Blanche’s cabin” (233). Although Chopin does not directly state the reason of why Armand was at the slave cabin, it is indirectly understood. Desiree loves her husband so much that she is oblivious to the obvious.
She grew to be “beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere,-the...

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