Good essays often begin by asking a Driving Theoretical Question of a text. As a class, we’ve read and briefly discussed “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin. Before noon next Tuesday, I would like you to answer the following Driving Theoretic Question(s):

How, why, and in what way(s) does the short story present the concept of race as a social construction, as something that exists in the mind instead of in the body?

What’s above is your prompt. What’s below is for you

to consider as you prepare to address the prompt.

This prompt does not ask you for your opinion on the matter. Instead, it asks you to look closely at this short story and use it to provide a thoughtful answer to the question(s) above. In some ways, it is asking you to consider James Baldwin’s declaration that “color [i.e., race] is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality. It exists only in the darkness of our minds” in relation to “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin.

I hope your essay will be formal in tone and will focus on Chopin’s story. Although it is acceptable (in this class, at least) to use the first-person “I” when writing about literature, try to avoid using it by focusing on the text. For example, instead of saying, “I believe that the text demonstrates…”, say instead, “The text demonstrates.” Doing so makes your argument more forceful and less tentative – that’s a good pose to strike as a writer! You’re explaining what the text does, and while it is in some ways your opinion of what the text does, removing the “I believe” takes you out of the conversation and puts the focus right where it belongs: on the text.

You should strive to avoid writing just a cookie-cutter five-paragraph. I hope your essay will have a thesis – the central idea that drives your analysis – that is focused, engaged, creative, and sophisticated. I hope you will support that thesis with body paragraphs that follow the Claim // Evidence // Analysis model (although there is great freedom within that model). And remember that any given claim might need more than one paragraph to explain and analyze. Your essay should have an introduction and a conclusion, and you should spend some time proofreading your essay. Read it slowly and out loud. Where do you get tripped up? Spend some time “polishing” those sentences.

Here are a couple of questions to get you going. Perhaps answer them in writing to get you moving toward a response….

What is race? What is ethnicity? (See handout in CourseDen.)

Trace various characters’ racialized identities. (E.g., When is the baby white? When is the baby black? When is Desiree white? When is she black? When is Armand white? When is he black?)

What actually changes during the story? What is the role of perception here? Is the change from one racialized identity (from white to black to white) to another real? Imagined?

Think about our conversations during our reading of Their Eyes Were Watching God about Nature vs. Caution. What is learned? What is “natural” in the world?

Have fun! Seriously. Go wild! Explore these big (and maybe scary) ideas! Take risks! But please – as always – be careful and considerate when writing and talking about issues of race.

You may draft the essay however you’d like, but I want you to upload the essay to CourseDen by noon on Tuesday, October 1st.


What do we mean when we use the word “construct” (and by extension, “construction”)?

“construct” || noun || con·​struct | \ ˈkän-ˌstrəkt  \

Definition of construct 

1something constructed by the mind: such as

   aa theoretical entity…

the deductive study of abstract constructs …— Daniel J. Boorstin

   ba working hypothesis or concept…

The unconscious was a construct that came from the daily effort to understand patients.

2a product of ideology, history, or social circumstances.

Privacy is more than a social construct or an idea; it is a condition of the body.

— Sallie Tisdale

“social construct” || noun

Definition of social construct


an idea that has been created and accepted by the people in a societyClass distinctions are a social construct.

A “construct” is something that has been made, formulated, developed by humans – often over a long period of time. When we say that “race is a construct” (or a construction), we are saying that it exists only to the extent that we allow it to exist. It has meaning in our world, but we humans have given it that meaning. Race is not a natural category in the world, but we’ve come to believe in it so firmly that it begins to feel like a natural category.

STEP 1 (at the top of this prompt) asks you to read this short article and then get started. If you are wanting more context, read the CourseDen handout called “Race v Ethnicity and Guess Who is White.”

From Scientific American at this link: