Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reader's Diary #270- Kate Chopin: Desiree's Baby

As I mentioned earlier, The Book Mine Set will be hosting a Bookworms Carnival in November with short stories as its theme. Why short stories? Primarily because it's a genre that I feel I've neglected and figured the carnival would give me some incentive to remedy the problem. So from now until then (and possibly continuing afterwards), I'm going to try and set aside one day a week to blog about a short story I've read. As an added bonus, it gives me lots of chances to plug the carnival and remind people to please consider writing a post about short stories and submit it to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com.

This week's short story is Kate Chopin's "Desiree's Baby". It's probably familiar to many of you, but if you'd like to read it again (or for the first time) check it out here.

Some of the worst points in history have yielded the best art haven't they? Just think how many books, stories, movies and so forth have come out of the World Wars and slavery for instance. "Desiree's Baby" deals with the latter.

Desiree was as woman with a mysterious past. As a toddler left on the doorstep of a rich family in Louisiana, no one knows where she came from or why. Madame Lamonde, the lady of the house, looks upon her a gift from "a beneficent Providence," and loves her unconditionally. Later, Armand Aubigny -a plantation owner- also seems not to care about the details of Desiree's past, and the two of them get married. Before long a baby is born and things go well until it becomes more and more clear that the child is of mixed racial heritage. Obviously many questions arise, but I won't spoil those here in case you haven't read it.

While the racial issues are core to the story, I feel it works as a mystery as much as a social commentary. I found that one of the most interesting aspects were the shifts in focus. At first it appears that the story will be about Madame Lamonde, then the focus shifts to Desiree and finally to Armand. I think the smooth flow from one to the next complements the mystery aspect. It has an effect much like how we process clues: mulling one piece over and then moving on. I also feel the race issue feeds into the adage that things aren't always black and white- an important reminder to any prospective sleuth.

And as much as the characters might be somewhat vague, the imagery in the story is powerful- especially a scene involving a fire. But again, I'll try to avoid the spoiler.

I'd heard several people mention this story to me before, and after finally reading it myself, I can understand why it's considered a classic.

4 comments:

Poodlerat said...

Oh, I'm excited to hear that you've picked the short story as your carnival theme! I just recently realized how much I love short stories and short story collections. I'll certainly be submitting something---and I'm eager to read what other people will have to say!

Dewey said...

I read this so long ago, and for a class, but I love Chopin in general, and The Awakening specifically.

Gentle Reader said...

I read this in college and loved it, and also loved The Awakening. I remember how surprising this story was to me. I think I'll read it again--thanks for a great post.

John Mutford said...

Poodlerat: Looking forward to reading your post!

Dewey and Gentle Reader: Looks like I'm going to have to read "The Awakening" now as well- thanks for the recommendation.