William Faulkner and Kate Chopin were two of the most prolific creative writers the United States has ever produced. Dealing with many of the same inherent problems of mankind, they go about conveying these themes in vastly different, but equally effective ways. Kate Chopin was alive from 1850 to 1904–dying rather young–and frequently dealt with women’s issues and social changes. “Desiree’s Baby” is no exception. Faulkner almost carried on this tradition in American literature, embracing the realism that adds to the readability due to his concrete use of images–very telling of Realism overall, but especially apparent in his short story “A Rose for Emily”.
The theme of good versus evil especially rings true when looking at the entire body of work of both authors, but can be isolated very easily using Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby” as well as Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”. Both of the two short stories show elements of both good and evil–often contrasted against each other in a way that makes it somewhat subtle, but clearly a thematic overtone.
“A Rose for Emily” opens with a narrator who informs the reader of the death of the apparent protagonist, “Miss Emily” with almost no emotion. The particular way the narrator describes the entire town showing up for Emily’s funeral is even somewhat cold and disconnected–described as thus, “…our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful attention for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house…”. These are clearly not the correct reasons to attend a funeral–the men seeing her as a “monument”, and the women out of “curiosity”. This is clearly a theme of cruelty disguised as human nature–coming full circle to the internal struggle of good versus evil.
This cold disconnect is also seen from one of the main characters in Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby”. Specifically, towards the end of the story–when it is clear the baby is biracial, Desiree’s husband Armand shows a similar cruelty. Coming from an upper-class French family, Armand assumes it is Desiree–his modest bride that loves him unconditionally–that is of mixed race origin, and upon her asking him if he wished her to leave, he responded cruelly first with “Yes, go,” and then, “Yes, I want you to go.”
Though their lives overlapped for a modest 14 years, both Chopin and Faulkner embodied the rise of realism of the time–both encapsulating the horrors that real life brings to the table. The cruelty of man was a theme frequently addressed by writers of this time period–a stark contrast from the ethereal writings of Thoreau and Emerson and the transcendental movement that came before them.
There is another clear and concise example of the good versus evil within both story’s–again, a major theme of the realist movement. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, the protagonist is clearly from a very old and proper family. She has “Negro” servants, as does Desiree and Armand in Chopin’s story. Like Armand, Emily’s choice of mate was perceived as much less than ideal–choosing a “Northern day laborer”. It was tragic indeed for Emily when she seemingly discovered his homosexuality. After her death, her house was searched–and the dead, poisoned body of her once lover was discovered:
The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him. What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.
Though a rather graphic description, this illuminates both the evil of man and woman. It is clear that Emily poisoned her lover for his homosexual indiscretions–this would clearly taint her family’s reputation. On the other hand, it shows evil on the part of the unfortunate dead man as well–simply for leading Emily on for so long under false pretenses.
Looking at “Desiree’s Baby”, there is another example that somewhat parallels the behavior seen in Faulkner’s story. Although Emily actually killed her lover for what was apparently false pretense and Armand never laid a finger on Desiree, the destruction of life is certainly there in both areas. By banishing Desiree, he essentially ruined the possibility for both her and her baby to advance in life, and especially his willingness to deprive his child of the benefits his old, and clearly wealthy family could have provided.
Although it was Armand that exhibited disgusting behavior, the true appearance of weighing good and evil in this story comes at the end, by none other than Armand’s mother:
There was the remnant of one back in the drawer from which he took them. But it was not Desiree’s; it was part of an old letter from his mother to his father. He read it. She was thanking God for the blessing of her husband’s love: “But above all,” she wrote, “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”
This is the ultimate form of human evil–Armand’s mother, knowing that it was Armand himself who was of mixed race, indirectly forced him to desert both Desiree and their child. Though Armand made the decision himself, with this piece of information he may have made a different decision–a decision to support both Desiree and his child.
The genre of realism certainly did nothing to censor the horrors of every day life. Both Faulkner and Chopin illustrate this greatly in both stories, a sad reality for Antebellum America, particularly in the South.
Chopin, Kate, and Per Seyersted. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2006. Print.
Faulkner, William, and M. Thomas Inge. A Rose for Emily,. [Columbus, Ohio]: Merrill, 1970. Print.