In Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby,” the reasons for Armond Aubigny’s cruelty toward the slaves can be found in the childhood trauma inflicted upon him in Paris, and also because of the social forces that surround his life in Louisiana.
Although, in the story there is no mention of whether he knows his mother was black or not, there is the feeling that in the back of his mind he always knew he was of mixed color. He has repressed his past, and does not acknowledge that he has African-American blood flowing through his veins. As stated in the article ‘”Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby”, by R. R. Foy, “Armand was certainly old enough to remember his mother, but circumstances have caused him to suppress the past.”‘(Foy 222).
Chopin writes in such a way that the reader must decide for himself why Armand behaves the way he does in each situation. When he first sees Desiree leaning against the same stone pillar that she was found at, he falls madly in love with her and nothing seems to matter. This is realized by the section in the story, “It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing her there, had fallen in love with her.” (Chopin). Desiree’s father tells him that her heritage is unknown and he may need to know her background, but this does not matter to Armand because he says his good name is all that is needed for their happiness. At this point in the story, it appears that love is colorblind and all that matters is the love itself.
Madame Valmonde has the feeling of darkness around the plantation by her observations as she arrives at L’Abri, “When she reached L’Abri she shuddered at the first sight of it, as she always did. It was a sad looking place. The roof came down steep and black like a cowl, reaching out beyond the wide galleries that encircled the yellow stuccoed house.” (Chopin). This darkness carries throughout the story by the way Armand is described. He, like the place he lives, has very dark undertones. Armand does not treat his slaves the way his father treated them. This can be demonstrated by the passage, “Young Aubigny’s rule was a strict one, too, and under it his Negroes had forgotten how to be gay, as they had been during the old master’s easy-going and indulgent lifetime”.(Chopin). Desiree tells her mother of the change in Armand since the baby was born. He did not treat his slaves as badly as he had before, but the reader still has the feeling that this will not last long, even before the tragedy of the story unfolds. At this point, Armand seems to be a caring person, but actions can be deceiving. He appears to be the loving husband, but Desiree questions his actions, she is afraid of him when he is in a bad mood, and she thanks God to have him when he is in a good mood.
Armands’s true racism comes through when he believes that Desiree is black. He returns to his old ways of treating people, and Desiree is the one he directs his hatred towards. She cannot believe that he could feel the way he now feels about her and their child. By his actions, the reader is led to believe that he must have remembered, although repressed, that his mother was a Negro. As Foy relates in the article, “His hatred is the opposite extreme of love. By casting out the passion, he has in a way ended the cruelty and finally must come face to face with himself, the true source of his hatred, anger, and emotional distress. Armand hates the very thing he is.” (Foy 222).
With the fact that his social status is involved, he knows that he must have the respect of his peers, and keep up the family name. This is revealed when the author states that, “Armand is a man who must deal with a demanding social climate, uphold a position of noblesse oblige, and eventually come to terms with his own heritage.” (Foy). His family name is important to Armand because he wants to keep it from being tarnished by the fact that he may have married a black woman. By treating Desiree so coldly, he may as well have stabbed her in the heart, and she could never recover from his cruelty. Desiree finally realizes that something is wrong when there is uneasiness among the slaves and visitors begin to arrive for no reason.
As revealed in the story, Armand’s cruelty toward his slaves is not just the result of simple racism. He was affected early in life by the death of his mother, and having repressed the fact that she was Black. All that he hated was reflected in himself. He reacted to the slaves in the way he did because deep inside he knew he held the same heritage they did and he could not accept this thought. If the truth were ever known about his bloodline he knew his family name would forever be disgraced.