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Themes of Love, Misunderstanding, and Identity in Cather’s “The Sculptor’s Funeral” and Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby”

Jun 25, 2023 | 0 comments

Jun 25, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


Cather’s “The Sculptor’s Funeral” is a story of the clash of values between the inhabitants of the frontier town and Harvey Merrick, an artist to which he is returning in death. Only by escaping to the east, a representation of more civilized values, traditions has Merrick been able to fulfill his artistic ambitions, but the fulfillment was premised on total sacrifice for himself. On the other hand, in “Desiree’s Baby,” Chopin brings out a story of a South which involves widespread racism, love and prejudice. The essay will compare Cather’s “The Sculptor’s Funeral” and Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby.” Truly in small communities, some individuals live out their lives without a community, love or even to be understood by others.


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Desiree also lives with Armand but as the essay progresses, it comes out that Armand never loved Désirée because he believed she was of mixed heritage and also because Désirée brought unconscious injury upon his home and also to his name. This indicates also that she lived in a home where she was not loved. This is similar to the sculptor’s funeral where the main character was also not loved by his community. Harvey, the dead being brought back was never understood by his people. At the funeral, everyone thinks that Harvey should not have gone east to become an artist. But the lawyer, Jim Laird says that what Harvey needed was a course in some first class city business college in Kansas (8). Harvey grew up in Sand City, a small town where everybody was pushed towards money and a job. Cather presents different social issues such as corruption as most of the people turned to drinking and died (9). It was not an easy thing for a person to live up to the standards ad expectations of everyone, especially if a person had a different perspective of live. People did not understand Harvey and his ambitions. He, therefore, moved to the east as opposed to staying in his hometown and helping his father with the farm work. Steavens quoting the words of Harvey as told to him, he said that his place was a not a pleasant place to be lying while the world was doing, battering and moving (8), implying that Harvey himself said his hometown was not a pleasant place to live.

Désirée lived with Monsieur Valmonde and even grew up, and he wanted everything to be considered well, that is the obscure origin of the girl. Similarly, Arman when she looked in the eyes of Désirée, he did not care. This brings out the picture that Désirée also lived in a community where people did not understand her ancestry. Chopin elaborates the thoughts of Madame Valmonde as she drove to see Désirée and the baby for the first time. Madam Valmonde remembers when Désirée was still a baby when her husband, Monsieur Valmonde had found her sleeping as he rode through the gateways of their home in southern Louisiana (para 11). Chopin further describes that no one never knew who put Désirée there or where she came from, but they adopted her since they had no children. The Valmondes, who adopted her in to their family, never understood her ancestry (para13). Armand himself also never understood himself and his wife never understood his ancestry. When he reads the letter from his mother to his father about his background, it reveals that Armand had the black ancestry and not Désirée. This is similar to the narration by Steavens, the young apprentice of Harvey whore adored Harvey like an idol. He could not understand why the man he adored so much had no connection with his kinship. He is appalled by Annie’s fierce and violent look and the power she wielded over everybody around her. Steavens also never found out the roots r background of his master and was equally surprised by the cruelty to the man he loved from his people.

Désirée herself lives with Armand, her husband, and he does not understand her or even her origin. Armand believes that Désirée is not white while she believes he is white. When he told her that she was not white, she feels disgraced and says that that was a lie and not true. She further confirms with her skin which was fairer than that of Armand, her brown hair, and gray eyes. Similarly, when writing a letter to Madame Valmonde, she asks her mother for confirmation whether she was not white and how she was unhappy about it. Every physical appearance indicates that Désirée is white but her husband, Armand does not understand why the baby is black skin. This is in contrast to Jim the lawyer, who pointed out some of the ills of the society and shamed the people making him one of the rare people who stood up, just like Harvey. He lived in his community but lacked a community of people who could stand up against the social ills of the society like him. Before the commencement of the funeral, many people from the town are seated but disgusted by the past life Harvey and the mistake of Martin for sending his son to school in the East. Jim pointed out that people did not like him because of his different ideals and for pointing out corruption in town people.

Chopin further brings out how Désirée herself also lived with Armand and never understood him (para 8). In describing Désirée’s thoughts, Chopin elaborates that when the child was three months old, she detected the change in atmosphere was for the worse at L’Abri although she could not explain fully what she was feeling. She woke up one day and was convinced that there was something menacing her peace in the air (para 9). Firstly, it was the disquieting suggestion and the air of mystery around the black slaves, and the unexpected visits from neighbors from far who could not even account for their visits. Moreover, there was an awful and strange change in Armand’s manner when did not even dare to ask for an explanation. Furthermore, Chopin states that when Désirée talked to her husband, it seemed the old love-light had gone out, and when he spoke it was with averted eyes (para15). He disappeared from home and avoided her presence and the child when he was there without excuse. The same satanic spirit also suddenly took hold of him when dealing with the slaves. This shows that the sudden change of events in Armand made Désirée not understand he husband. Steavens, “The Sculptor’s Funeral,” also could not understand the cruelty of the hometown people of his master as much as he adored him like an idol.

In his community, the blacks who were majorly slaves never understood why they were being mistreated or being held as slaves by their masters. Similarly, they lived in houses of the whites with no love and harsh treatments. Chopin indicates that Armand, just like the other old plantation owners of the south, viewed his slaves’ blackness as a defect which even colored their souls.As L’Abri plantation master, he was a strict taskmaster who treated his slaves harshly (para 10). Furthermore, Armand only loved the outer beauty of Désirée and not her inner beauty like a trophy. However, when the trophy got tarnished before his own very own eyes, he discarded it and ended his marriage. Armand just like the whites rejected his wife and his child because of suspicion of being blacks which exhibited a taint of impurity. Upon the birth of his child and Armand discovered that the child had a Negro blood, he becomes cruel and sullen and makes it known that his child and wife were no longer welcome at L’Abri. Moreover, he tries erasing their memory by burning their household items and clothing. On the other hand, Harvey in “The Sculptor’s Funeral,” was not sent away, but went away voluntarily. Chopin further highlighted the conversation between Désirée and her mother, Madam Volmonde, which showed that Armand used La Blanche, the slave woman as a sex object (para 5). La Blanche was also of mixed heritage and had light skin which was tolerable. This indicates a lack of love for Désirée by Armand and lack of love for the black slaves amongst the whites’ plantation owners from the south. Similar to Cather’s “The Sculptor’s Funeral,” Harvey was also not loved by his people. Instead of honoring him, Phelp badgered him by say that he was not even intelligent. Similarly, lack of love for Harvey from her mother is also shown by her dark harshness in the life of Harvey. Annie, his mother, was extremely cruel and made his life a hell when he was living at home, and therefore he was so ashamed of it (5). His mother’s abusive and violent nature which Harvey never liked is also seen when she abuses the maid for forgetting to make some dressing for the chicken salad.

The women in the book of Désirée baby are subordinate to men just like the black people are subhuman to the whites. The women in this community are not understood by men, and they are not loved. Armand, as the husband is described as an overall ruler of the home. When he frowned at home, Désirée frowned, and when he smiled, Désirée asked no greater blessing from God. The insubordination of women is also seen when Désirée gave birth to a boy. The narrator observed that when the boy is born, his manner softened but his demeanor remained in question. Furthermore, Armand was the proudest father in the parish because his wife bore him a boy, who would bear his name. The male child meant that Armand’s name and his aristocratic heritage would continue for many generations. Although Armand said that he would have loved the girl child as well, Désirée casts some doubt on it, that it is not true. Armand also used La Blanche, the slave woman as a sex object because of her weaker gender. This implies that women and girls were never understood and loved in this community. The maid is also abused by Annie, in “The Sculptor’s Funeral,” to indicate how inferior and not loved in society.


In conclusion, the essay compared the work of Cather’s “The Sculptor’s Funeral” and Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby.” From the analysis, the essay demonstrated that truly in small communities, some individuals live out their lives without a community, love or even to be understood by others. Both Harvey and Désirée were never understood by their people. Women and black people never found love from their homes and masters.

Work Cited

Cather, Willa. ‘WCA: “The Sculptor’s Funeral”‘. Cather.unl.edu. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 May 2015.

Chopin, Kate. ‘Short Stories: Desiree’s Baby By Kate Chopin’. Eastoftheweb.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 May 2015.

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