English 1B 28 June 2010 Desiree’s Baby and Yellow Woman Even if things seem perfect on the surface, defined perfection is not set in stone – this is the common theme between “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, and “Yellow Woman” by Leslie Marmon Silko. Both leading women, Desiree and Yellow Woman, have a content life at home until a catalyst makes them realize sometimes having everything is not enough, forever. This theme along with other elements is put to good use in each of the short stories; characterization, point of view, plot and structure (referring to Alice Adam’s outline ABDCE) are examples of the elements the authors used.
The catalyst in “Desiree’s Baby” is the moment that Desiree and her husband Armand discuss why their child’s skin complexion is different than their own. Armand is quick to assume that it is Desiree who is not white in origin – which readers find out later it was actually his own mother who is not. It is because of this that Armand is the antagonist of this story. Before their child was noticeably of different complexion, Armand and Desiree were deeply in love.
Chopin described in her first few paragraphs the day Armand first took a liking to Desiree. 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. That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love, as if struck by a pistol shot. The wonder was that he had not loved her before; for he had known her since his father brought him home from Paris, a boy of eight, after his mother died there.
The passion that awoke in him that day, when he saw her at the gate, swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like anything that drives headlong over all obstacles (570). It is ironic how a man fell out of love Desiree, just as easily, and fast, as he fell in love. According to one critic, Armand let his “love of his wife soften him temporarily and perhaps offer him a psychological reprieve, but his actions clearly indicate that he is a man filled with torment and confusion” (Foy).
This critic blames Armand’s actions on his unconsciously repressed childhood memories of his mother. Foy also believes that “With racial prejudice and psychological confusion as the sources of his cruelty, Armand has no choice but to turn from Desiree and the baby” (Foy). He physically has a choice, but mentally he feels he can not cross that specific boundary in his life. It is because of this mental selfishness, that Armand suffers the loss of a loving wife and son and potential for a happily ever after.
The catalyst in “Yellow Woman” is not a moment, but a person – Silva – another male alleged to be the antagonist of the story. Silva is the man who “kidnapped” Yellow Woman and stole her away from her home and family. At home, she lived with her mother, grandmother, husband (Al), and their baby; these were the people she hurt and abandoned for this three day adventure. She had only heard tales of the “Yellow Woman” and the ka’tsina (mountain) spirit from her grandfather: “Yellow Woman went away with the spirit from the north and lived with him and his relatives.
She was gone for a long time, but then one day she came back and she brought twin boys” (257). Silva met the innocent girl the night before the story takes place alongside the river. It was then that Silva had swooned her into thinking he was the ka’tsina spirit and that she was Yellow Woman. This is the reason I believe why she was mislead so easily. That and her strong faith in her grandfather’s tales lead her inner influence to go with the man who claimed he was the talked-about ka’tsina spirit. Both women are mothers with seemingly entirely different bonds with their child. Yellow Woman” rarely refers to her child so the reader is left with the impression that: she must not love her child like a mother should. Whereas Desiree’s character is always depicted as lighting up or glowing when she talks about her child and his affect on their new family: Desiree’s face became suffused with a glow that was happiness itself. ‘Oh Armand is the proudest father in the parish, I believe, chiefly because it is a boy to bear his name; though he says not, – that he would have loved a girl as well. But I know it isn’t true. I know he says that to please me…
Oh, mamma, I’m so happy; it frightens me’ (571). Chopin and Silko both use Alice Adam’s outline of structure (ABDCE = action, background, development, climax, ending). “Yellow Woman” opens the story implying the author had slept with this man (later identified as Silva) alongside the river which is classified as the opening action. Opening action in “Desiree’s Baby” is Madame Valmonde reminiscing in her memories of Desiree herself as a baby, while she is on her way to see Desiree and her baby. Both stories give background information in the beginning as well.
Readers find out that Desiree was “adopted” by Madame and Monsieur Valmonde and how her whirlwind romance with Armand began. The background information shared in Yellow Woman is that she just met this man she awoke next to, and that he is taking her away with him somewhere, and that they had established that the night previous – of what Yellow Woman seems to remember very little. Yellow Woman’s curiosity feelings towards Silva develop throughout the story; however, in “Desiree’s Baby” instead of developing, there is the depletion of a relationship – Desiree and Armand’s marriage.
From beginning through end readers are well informed about their relationship’s critical, pivotal moments going from passionate lovers to departing strangers. Reaching the climax, readers discover that the issue regarding Desiree and Armand’s son – is about the color of his skin. The climax in “Yellow Woman” is when the rancher approaches her and Silva as they are headed on horseback towards Marquez and Silva said “Go back up the mountain, Yellow Woman” (261).
And then it is let known that Silva had shot the unarmed rancher to prevent himself from being caught rustling cattle as Yellow Woman “leaped up the trail” (261) and never returned back to Silva and his tranquil hold. Both climaxes involve the story’s protagonist, antagonist, and the catalyst with the ending result of their chosen direction. The authors chose different ways of ending their stories, Desiree “disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again. (573) Yellow Woman decided to end her journey with this stranger and she went home to her family: I followed the path up from the river into the village. The sun was getting low, and I could smell supper when I got to the screen door of my house. I could hear their voices inside – my mother was telling my grandmother how to fix the Jell-O and my husband, Al, was playing with the baby. I decided to tell them that some Navajo had kidnapped me, but I wasn’t sorry that old Grandpa wasn’t alive to hear my story because it was the Yellow Woman stories he liked to tell best (262).
Both protagonists chose to go the complete opposite direction that the catalyst was pulling them towards. Desiree impressed independent female readers when “She did not take the broad, beaten road which led to the far off plantation of Valmonde. [But] She walked across a deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet, so delicately shod, and tore her thin gown to shreds,” (573). This shows Desiree was fearless and compliant to her present future and she accepted the danger that she was now facing by choosing independence.
Yellow Woman decided to make the logical decision: instead of allowing her curiosity to drive her further into mischief with Silva, she rode away and stayed away. This shows enormous character on her behalf, a side of Yellow Woman that readers had not noticed previously. She decided to do the ethically correct thing, but possibly slightly disappointed some hopelessly romantic readers who were wishing for an adventurous passionate adventure. Throughout the stories each author let the reader be intrigued in wondering which direction each of the leading women would decide to take.
For Desiree it was thought she would return to Madamn Valmonde’s with her child, but instead she surprised the reader’s expectations and did not. Chopin’s readers were also curious as to who had the altered bloodline that resulted in this decision having to be made. Silko’s readers were wondering how far Yellow Woman was going to take her and Silva’s relationship and if she would ever return home to her duties as a wife, daughter, granddaughter, and mother. Both the authors’ chosen resolution was not revealed until the last few paragraphs of their stories – leaving their readers in suspense from beginning to end.
In “Yellow Woman”, Silko let her readers be blind to the fact that Yellow Woman had a husband and child at home. Silko did so to let readers have an opinion on what Yellow Woman should do before letting in on the knowledge of her family’s existence. This is where Silko sparked the reader’s interest in wondering what would happen to Yellow Woman in the end. This also let the readers first believe that Yellow Woman’s affair is harmless, and maybe she should risk the chance encounter for a whirl wind romance and a chance at love.
Silko characterized Yellow Woman and her decision to continue with Silva to be innocent, until later when we are informed of her family, readers then see Yellow Woman as otherwise. Chopin characterized Desiree in a way that the readers felt sympathy for her. In the beginning of the story, Chopin says “She [Desiree] grew to be beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere, – the idol of Valmonde” (570). In this sentence readers are early on affectionate toward this girl because they know of her good qualities and Chopin wanted readers to be on Desiree’s side from the beginning – hence using the omniscient narrarator perspective.
Using this free indirect style, the author portrayed Desiree to be “sincere” and worded her actions throughout the rest of the story to further persuade readers, and they believed nothing less of her than sincerity. Even if things seem perfect on the surface, defined perfection is not set in stone. The reason this is chosen as the theme for both stories is because both women had a “perfect” life at one point in time until a negative catalyst got involved.
In the end, both women independently make their decision – to go opposite the catalyst. This is another thing both stories have in common besides the theme. Both authors, Chopin and Silko, did a great job in portraying this theme, structure as well as plot, characterization, and their chosen point of view. In spite of their differences and similarities, both stories illustrate the lives of women undergoing unfortunate major life-changing decisions that they are forced to make that misconstrued the perception of their defined perfect life.
Works Cited Chopin, Kate. “Desiree’s Baby. ” Making Arguments About Literature. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2005. 569-574. Marmon Silko, Leslie. “Yellow Woman. ” Making Arguments About Literature. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2005. 253-262. Reso Foy, Roslyn. “Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby. ” Explicator Summer 91, Issue 4 (49: 222) Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. Retrieved 28 June 2010. From C+/B- =( WTFFFF