Type of Work
Point of View
Plot Summary
Désirée's Reaction
Armand's Irreverence
Figures of Speech
Questions, Essay Topics
Complete Free Text
Author Information


Désirée's "Obscure Origin"

The following passage¬ódescribing Armand's attitude regarding the lack of information about Désirée's family history¬óforeshadows his assumption that Désirée's ancestry included a black African.

Monsieur Valmonde grew practical and wanted things well considered: that is, the girl's obscure origin. Armand looked into her eyes and did not care. He was reminded that she was nameless. What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?
After he discovered that his child was a mixed ancestry, it was easy for him to conclude that his wife was the one with Désirée was the one with mixed blood in her veins. 
L'Abri's Appearance

The foreboding appearance of the exterior of Armand's home reflects his inner world and foreshadows the malevolence that possesses him after Désirée questions him about their child. Here is the description of L'Abri, presented when Madame Valmondé visits the plantation house. "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. Big, solemn oaks grew close to it, and their thick-leaved, far-reaching branches shadowed it like a pall." 

"Something in the Air"

Désirée detects a change for the worse in the atmosphere at L'Abri when her child is three months old, although she cannot fully explain what she feels. Her presentiment, along with a change in the demeanor of her husband, foreshadows the unhappy events that result in the destruction of her marriage. Here is the passage describing her feelings and the change in Armand's behavior.

When the baby was about three months old, Désirée awoke one day to the conviction that there was something in the air menacing her peace. It was at first too subtle to grasp. It had only been a disquieting suggestion; an air of mystery among the blacks; unexpected visits from far-off neighbors who could hardly account for their coming. Then a strange, an awful change in her husband's manner, which she dared not ask him to explain. When he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out. He absented himself from home; and when there, avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse. And the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves. Désirée was miserable enough to die.
Armand's Complexion

The following passage foreshadows the ending, when Armand reads the letter about his own background. The key sentence is underlined.

A quick conception of all that this accusation meant for her nerved her with unwonted courage to deny it. "It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair," seizing his wrist. "Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand," she laughed hysterically.
Désirée's Reaction to Her Supposed Racial Origin

.......When Armand tells Désirée that she is not white, her reaction suggests that she feels disgraced. She tells him, "It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair. Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand." Then, when composing a letter to Madame Valmondé, she writes, "My mother, they tell me I am not white. Armand has told me I am not white. For God's sake tell them it is not true. You must know it is not true. I shall die. I must die. I cannot be so unhappy, and live."
.......However, it is likely that what distresses Désirée is not her and her baby's racial heritage per se. Rather, it is a fear that Armand will reject them because he views them as racially impure. Her fear, of course, is well founded. 

Armand's Irreverence

.......One passage in the story is particularly revealing in regard to the depth of Armand's malevolence. It occurs after he tells Désirée that he wants her to leave L'Abri. The narrator says, "He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife's soul." 


bayou: Marsh near a river or lake.
cochon de lait: Suckling pig.
corbeille: French for wedding gifts or trousseau. Literally, the word means basket. 
layette: Clothing for a newborn baby.
peignoir: Woman's negligee or bathrobe.
quadroon: Person descended from one black grandparent and three white grandparents.
unwonted: Unexpected.

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