Realism was a vast literary movement characteristic of mid-nineteenth century, as an antiromantic reaction which emphasizes the relationship between art and reality. The indispensable tool of the artist’s art is careful observation of reality and it is true and objective reflection in written work. “Désirée’s baby” by Kate Chopin is a story with many characteristics of realism work.
The story is set in Louisiana, it has no fictional characters and no divine intervention, showing us the society class of that time and also develops on real life struggles that were more likely to be found during that time period. We know Kate Chopin grew up in Missouri and lived for a period in Louisiana. She wrote the story after the slavery was abolished, and it was first published in 1893 (ref). Even if she is not telling us what year the story is taking place in, we can see based on some characteristics of pre-Civil War that the action takes place in the South, showing us the author’s views of a society, she had been living in. The use of the word bayou is an example of this: “she disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the bank of the deep, sluggish bayou”(pg.446, par. 4).
Realism focuses on a natural way of living. The “bayou” word is a representative of the Louisiana region meaning swamps area that are geographically characteristics of that region. Another way of seeing the setting was developed there are the French names of all the characters : Madame Valmondé, Armand Aubigny, La Blanche and even the plantation their house is on is called L’Abri. We are also informed that “ French was the language spoken at Valmondé in those days”( pg. 443, par. 7). Another characteristic of South setting and also of the class difference between poor and rich is the mention of the slaves Armand owned. As the nineteenth century went on, industrialization and urbanization led to major social and economic changes. The rich and poor became divided, so the Romantic writers were focusing their writing on social class. These elements are the best reflected in Kate Chopin’s story. Both, Désirée and Armand come from rich families, and when rich at that time they owned the lower class of people, slaves. His plantation, L’Abri, owned by his father at first, Monsieur Aubigny, saw better times under the old owner.
The old Monsieur Aubigny was kind and indulgent towards his slaves, but Armand’s rule “was a strict one, too, and under it his negroes had forgotten how to be gay”(pg. 443, par.4). The role of Realist writers was to write about everyday people doing everyday things. No influences of mystical characters were present in this story. Desiree has been adopted by the Valmonde family and they never questioned her history. They have loved and erase the child and she “grew to be beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere, -the idol of Valmondé (pg. 443, pr,. 1). Her character is showing much dependency on her husband and how he perceives her. In that history times everything was done based on what the men wanted. Women roles in a marriage was to carry and erase the child, take care of the house, and to be at the husband disposal. Desiree fits the character perfectly.
The story reveals that she never questioned her husband, even when he was gone to La Blanche cabin the month after she had the baby “Armand heard him the other day as far away as La Blanche’s cabin”( pg. 444, par. 2). Her trust in him was unquestionable and in the end when he didn’t want her there anymore she chooses to kill herself. Madame Valmondé character shows the love a mother can have. For her it didn’t matter where the girl was coming from or what origins might she have. She loved Desiree and thought “she had been sent to her by a beneficent Providence to be the child of her affection” (pg. 443, par. 1). Because of the historical times this story is set on we can assume that no aricstocat family would have ever accepted a bi-racial grandson, but Madame Valmondé did not care about that. She wrote Desiree the letter, inviting her to go home with her baby to the mother that loves her “come home to Valmondé; back to your mother who loves you. Come with your child”(pg. 445, par. 12)
The difference between Madame Valmondé and Armand Aubigny has astonished me. He didn’t show any love in him. Even though he stops treating the slaves badly after Desiree had the child, he is described by Chopin as a cruel owner and someone that will probably treat his wife the same way he treats his slaves. The way the story develops, he can be considered a cheater and someone with no character. When the baby was three months old Desiree looked at one of La Blanche’s son and then at her baby and discovered the resemblance. Maybe not of the black color but most of the resemblance the kids had between them by having the same dad. “She looked from her child to the boy who stood beside him, and back again; over and over. Ah! It was a cry she could not help”(pg. 444).
The ultimate power of men in those time give us a taste for the social issues problems they had then. He loved her at the beginning of the story but as soon as he presumed she was black he turned the love bottom off and was capable to push her and their son away from their home.