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Perception tends to represent a character's state of mind as it pertains to the short story “Desiree's Baby” written by Kate Chopin. Perception that one is superior will be shown in actions and thinking. Perception of being inadequate may manifest in actions of self-worthlessness and thinking associated with feelings of self-worthlessness. Perception may then be looked upon as being an internal conflict that manifests itself by way of actions and thinking. Such perceptions may cause a character's thinking to be persuaded by other outside forces such as setting. Perception in turn would result in character's feelings of superiority, or inadequacy regardless of their true nature. It is this author's intention to show that individuals should make decisions based on facts, instead of how things may appear. Through usage of setting, irony, dialogue, and characterization, it will be displayed how the characters of Desiree Valmonde-Aubingy and Armand Aubingy show that perception plays a role in how decisions that were made by Desiree and Armand ended with the destruction of a family. With the setting of “Desiree’s Baby” occurring in the Bayou of Louisiana during the time of slavery, and with Armand being a slave master, Armand’s mind set shows where his thinking that he is superior was commonplace for this era in time. Quotes by Rena Korb, author of “Critical Essay on “Desiree's Baby'” are able to affirm Armand’s state of mind where he feels he is superior. “Armand believes himself to be superior to the slaves he owns is clear” according to Korb. Korb also states of Armand, “his feelings of superiority lead to the destruction of his own child and the wife who ‘desperately’ loves him.” The issue at hand concerning Armand is that “His identity is intrinsically linked to his idea of his racial superiority.” It may be said that Armand may be symbolized as being
Pinnix 2 evil or bad as stated by Emily Toth, PhD, author of “Kate Chopin and Literary Convention: 'Dersiree's Baby.'” Toth states that “Armand's Satanic conduct associates him, as do his funeral surroundings, with the powers of darkness, in contrast with the whiteness of Desiree.” As for Desiree and being female during this era, “the antebellum South offers few opportunities for women other than being someone’s wife or mother” shows how women were thought of during the early nineteenth century by men. Along with women being stereotyped in that manner for the era, Desiree struggled with issues of being adopted and not ever feeling wanted. Toth states that “Chopin explains the powerlessness of women, both white and black” during this era of time in which the setting takes place. Korb also states that “Armand’s racism is seen, in part, as a product of his environment.” It may however be argued that part of Armand’s issues of superiority may be founded in the fact that he is male, is wealthy, is Master of his family plantation, and therefore considers himself to not be of African descent. While Desiree’s perception stems from being adopted by the Valmonde’s. Through usage of irony it appears evident both Desiree and Armand are characters that represent humanistic traits that are ironic by way of how they perceive things. Desiree may be observed as an individual that wants acceptance as well as love. Korb is able to show Desiree’s desire to be accepted and loved with the quote of, “Desiree, however, places her own attachment to Armand above all other concerns in her life, including the welfare of her child. Her sacrifice of her own life, and that of her child, reveals her basic inability to see an existence outside of her relationship with Armand; the love for her child is not sufficient.” There was however a time where Armand was able to love his wife, but that time ended ironically upon noticing the child’s African features. Desiree states that “falling in love improves Armand’s temper” and “Armand is the proudest father in the parish, I believe, chiefly because it is a boy, to bear his name” in a letter to stepmother, Madame Valmonde as quoted by Chopin. But four weeks after the birth of the child and how things are perceived by Armand, “he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name.”
Pinnix 3 Ironically, it was also Desiree's need to be accepted, and perceived as loved by her husband that led to the deaths of Desiree and her son. But ultimately, according to Korb “The final irony emerges in the last lines of the story when Armand and the reader discover his true heritage.” The dialogue, used within Chopin’s short story as well as the articles written by Korb and Toth underscore the mindsets of both Desiree and Armand. In the letter written by Desiree to Madame Valmonde, her stepmother, she pleads, “Armand has told me I am not white. For God’s sake tell them it is not true” in referencing the conversation Desiree had with Armand where he states, “the child is not white; it means that you are not white.” However, Desiree’s earlier statement shows “her willingness to accept Armand, white or black” according to Korb. This shows where Desiree has a needing of wanting to be accepted, as well as loved by Armand. The dialogue used in the following quote by Toth reflects a bigger picture as to Armand’s and Desiree’s perceptions of superiority or inadequacy. “‘Desiree’s Baby’ is about environment, the effect of slavery on men’s character. It is also about the parallels between roles of women and blacks (or “persons of color”) Chopin shows that color caste and economic superiority develop certain unenviable but inevitable qualities in white masters.” Other quotes by Korb also show dialogue where Armand has a perception he is superior, and Desiree’s perception would be inadequacy. Korb states “Armand assumes that Desiree, the child of unknown parents, has tainted his bloodline with that of African ancestors.” Korb also states of Armand’s mindset pertaining to his perception of Desiree: “For she is only white on the exterior, and he casts her in the same category as his slaves.” Characterization shows that Armand based his feelings and actions on perception. Not only the perception upon how he views things, but how he may be perceived by others and potentially frowned upon socially, regardless of the detriment to his own happiness. Quotes by Korb of Chopin explain Armond’s mindset, “Such thinking clearly shows his own feelings about the worth of African Americans,” and “’unexpected visits from far-off neighbors who could hardly account for their coming’ Pinnix 4
demonstrate the crisis that Desiree’s baby has caused in the region” shows that perception is what is important to Armand. Emily Toth’s quotation of “Armand appears to have a sexual relationship with La’ Blanche, one of his slaves, but he violates no social rules: he simply takes his right to her because he is master” shows that Armand’s mind is only willing to accept perceptions that would be deemed socially acceptable. But for his wife Desiree to give birth to a child that shows African heritage is unacceptable to Armand based on how he may potentially be perceived by others and how his perception of Desiree changes. These types of actions show that Armand’s sense of superiority was based on self-perception. However, no one will ever know how Armand’s perceptions of himself were changed after reading only part of a letter written by his mother to his father. Armand learned that his mother was of African heritage, and yet loved Armand enough to not let him bear the burden of knowing his lineage. As Korb stated “Armand’s father is revealed to be superior to standard ideas of racial inequity; he wed a woman of African descent.” Desiree is defined as being the protagonist, being she is the character the story revolves around. Armand would be classified as the antagonist due to his opposing Desiree. However, both characters are portrayed as being Tragic Octoroons. According to Toth, “The Tragic Octoroon, whether in life or art, has a divided inheritance. In most conventional literature, the Tragic Octoroon has a constant conflict between the passions (inherited from the black side) and the intellect (from the white portion). The male Tragic Octoroon is militant, rebellious, and melancholy.” The quotes by Toth readily affirm that both Desiree and Armand are characters that are Tragic Octoroons. In conclusion, the aforementioned quotes used throughout this essay were selected as evidence that Armand Aubingy was too caught up in how things are perceived, that he ultimately lost something that was previously important to him. Desiree Valmonde’s feelings of wanting to be accepted, as well as loved are founded in the facts that she was adopted, and has issues herself of dealing with feeling inadequate. The author of this essay feels this would be applicable to real life as it pertains to how a Pinnix 5
person may choose to look at things. For someone to try and proverbially ‘judge the book by its cover’ in some ways shows prejudice, and to potentially allow outside environment to mold one’s personal opinion is not one's own opinion. To be prejudiced, judgmental, and allow outside perception is not really forming an opinion of one’s own in the opinion of this author. Emily Toth stated. “Chopin seems to be saying that to judge on appearances is hardly enough: reliance on convention, either in literature or in life, can mislead and enchain.”
Pinnix 6 Works Cited Chopin, Kate. “Desiree’s Baby.” Kate Chopin.org. The Kate Chopin International Society, n.d. Web. 15 Sep. 2012. Korb, Rena. “Critical Essay of 'Desiree's Baby'.” Short Stories for Students 13 (2001): n. pag. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 Sep. 2012. Toth, Emily. “Kate Chopin and Literary Convention: 'Desiree's Baby'.” In Southern Studies 20.2 (1981): 201-208. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 Sep. 2012.
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