New search
download case
  • Overview
  • Teaching Notes
  • Answer Key
  • Videos
  • Comments/Replies

The Case of Desiree's Baby

The Genetics and Evolution of Skin Color


Patricia Schneider
Biological Sciences and Geology
Queensborough Community College / City University of New York


This case is based on Kate Chopin’s short story “Desiree’s Baby,” a tragic tale of race and gender in antebellum Louisiana first published in 1893. Students read the story and then answer a series of questions about the genetics and evolution of skin color. The case was developed for a general biology course organized around the general theme of evolution. It could also be used in anthropology and biology courses for non-majors.

  • Explain polygenetic inheritance.
  • Describe the inheritance of skin color.
  • Discuss the “sunscreen” and “vitamin” hypotheses of skin color evolution.
  • Write a short essay summarizing the key points in a popular science article.
Keywords: Skin color; skin pigmentation; polygenetic inheritance; allele; genotype; Mendelian genetics; Punnett square; evolution; racism; race; racial; Kate Chopin; Desiree's Baby
Topical Area: Social issues, Social justice issues
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Genetics / Heredity   Evolutionary Biology   Biology (General)   Anthropology   Sociology  
Date Posted: 05/21/03
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering here.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

  Download Teaching Notes

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering here.

  Get Answer Key


The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  The Biology of Skin Color hhmi/
In this short video, Penn State University anthropologist Dr. Nina Jablonski walks us through the evidence that the different shades of skin color among human populations arose as adaptations to the intensity of ultraviolet radiation in different parts of the world. Running time: 18:58 min. Produced by: HHMI BioInteractive.

Wonderful case - Use it every term and students love it and, I think, come away with a better understanding of genetics. Thanks!

Beth Strasser
Cal State Univ Sacramento
Sacramento, CA

City State:
security code
Enter Security Code: