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More Than Just a Color

In: English and Literature

Submitted By alexahudgins
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When used in literature, the color white usually corresponds with innocence and purity. It traditionally refers to a body that a man cannot touch. In both “The Storm” and “Desiree’s Baby,” Kate Chopin transforms the meaning of the color white. In “The Storm,” Calixta’s body is described as white on multiple occasions, representing beauty and sexual desire. Many of her features including her neck, throat, and breasts are described as white. Similarly in “Desiree’s Baby,” Armand Aubigny bases the worth of a person primarily on his or her race. In his eyes, nothing was more beautiful and desirable than being purely white. Through the use of metaphors and imagery, Kate Chopin uses the color white to represent passion, beauty, and desire.
“Desiree’s Baby” explores issues of racial prejudices in Louisiana during the slavery era. During this time period, there was absolutely no tolerance for sexual relationships between people of different skin colors. It was a difficult time not only for blacks but also for women because of the dominance white men had over them. Armand Aubigny falls in love with the beautiful Desiree and they have a son together. Armand quickly abandons Desiree and their son when he realizes the child is of black and white heritage, immediately believing that Desiree is the one to blame and that she must be black. Armand’s racial prejudices are used against him at the end of the story when he realizes that he is of the very race that he despises the most.
“The Storm" challenges commonly accepted views on marriage, desire and relationships. “The Storm,” presents an affair between a married man, Alcee, and a married woman, Calixta, who had been in a relationship together in the past. Their affair is portrayed as a necessary escape from reality. It forms a feeling that the affair was necessary in order to maintain satisfaction in their own marriages. By describing Calixta’s body as white, it makes the audience feel like Alcee and Calixta’s untruthful act stems from purity and simplicity. This makes it seem more reasonable and innocent that they are having an affair, and that they are cheating in order to better their relationship with their current spouse. This imagery supports Chopin’s main claim that everyone needs some sort of escape at certain times in his or her relationships.
Similarly, “Desiree’s Baby” also challenges commonly accepted views on marriage, desire and relationships. In today’s society, it is perfectly normal for black and white people to marry. However, at the time of the story, no marriage between mixed races would have been accepted in the upper class society of the Aubigny family. Armand finds Desiree very beautiful and desirable, but as soon as he realizes that their child is of mixed race, he immediately puts the blame on Desiree, shunning her and their child. It is obvious that Armand fell in love with Desiree’s outer beauty and did not truly love her.
Although the affair between Alcee and Calixta in “The Storm” is described with great passion, the primary color used in this particular scene is not what one would expect. Typically red is a color that depicts passion and desire, but Chopin uses white to show Alcee’s desire for Calixta. Chopin writes, “She lies on a white couch, and is like a creamy lily” (645). Rather than describing her passion as red hot, Chopin uses “a white flame.” The image of the “white flame” is a unique choice here because the white part of a flame is actually the hottest. Yet, this is controversial and ironic because the color white typically symbolizes innocence and purity. Chopin is intentional in describing her passion as a white flame because the narrator expresses that the affair is “without guile or trickery” (645). This is also an ironic choice of words, because guile typically implies that someone is being deceitful, and most people would agree that an extramarital affair is deceitful. Yet the general perspective of the story suggests that the affair is necessary and allows for Alcee and Calixta to continue a happy, married life with their spouses.
Chopin uses the idea of “whiteness” and other descriptions of the human body to represent human identity and sexuality in both stories. For example, In “The Storm,” we read that Calixta “felt very warm and often stopped to mop her face which the perspiration beads gathered on” (649). This image points to heat, indicating the desire and passion between Calixta and Alcee. Calixta’s name is also significant to the story. Like a floral calyx that unfolds its protective sepals to present the flower, Calixta has opened herself up to receive sexual and emotional fulfillment from Alcee. Evidence of this is shown when Calixta is described as “inviolate; a passionate creature whose very defenselessness had made her defense, against which his honor forbade him to prevail” (644). This demonstrates that Calixta was surprised by her own sexuality because it had never been brought out in this way before.
In “Desiree’s Baby,” sexuality and identity is represented in a very different way than “The Storm.” In “The Storm” Calixta literally blossoms into a more sensual and desired woman, whereas Desiree experiences a loss of not only her sexual desire and appeal as a woman but a loss of her identity. When Madame Valmonde examines Desiree’s baby in the light, the audience becomes immediately aware that something is not quite right with the baby. When Armand realizes that the baby is of mixed race, he is infuriated and decides he wants nothing to do with Desiree or the baby. We are told he “went away leaving her alone with the child” (652). Desiree surrendered her whole life to her husband and was very dependent on his opinion of her. These images of the relationship between Armand and Desiree help us understand just how powerful Armand was in her life, and how in Armand’s eyes, being white was the most desirable characteristic.
Chopin exemplifies both the positive and negative aspects of sexuality in “The Storm” and “Desiree’s Baby” through the use of the color white. In “The Storm,” Chopin uses the color white to describe why Calixta was so desirable to Alcee while also challenging the way we view marriage today, making Calixta and Alcee’s affair seem necessary and healthy. Similarly, in “Desiree’s Baby,” Chopin challenges today’s views of marriage through patriarchy and racism, showing that being white was considered honorable and beautiful. By employing the use of metaphors and imagery, Chopin shows that women with very different circumstances both experience changes regarding their identity and sexuality.

Works Cited Chopin, Kate. "Desiree's Baby." Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 649-53. Print.
Chopin, Kate. "The Storm." Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 642-46. Print.

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