What Is the Theme of the Film "Baby Doll"?

by Allison Horky
Baby Doll sucks her thumb, making her appear young and innocent.

Baby Doll sucks her thumb, making her appear young and innocent.

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"Baby Doll," released in 1956 starring Karl Malden as Archie Lee Meighan, Carroll Baker as Baby Doll and Eli Wallach as Silva Vaccaro, portrays the love triangle between Baby Doll, her husband, Meighan, and Vaccaro. Even though Baby Doll and Meighan are married, Baby Doll wants to remain a virgin until the age of 20. The movie uses sexuality, jealousy, Southern crop culture and innocence to tell its story.


One of the main themes and focuses of the movie is sex and sexuality. Baby Doll's virginity creates anxiety on the part of her husband. He is patiently waiting until her 20th birthday to consummate their marriage. Even still, Baby Doll spends a large amount of time with Vaccaro and their attraction to each other is visible. Baby Doll walks around during the movie in her slip, displaying her ease with her body around the men. She also flirts openly with Vaccaro in front of her husband. Sex and attraction are used as pawns in the pursuit of business.


Meighan wants to honor Baby Doll's wishes of waiting to sleep with her, but becomes uneasy as Baby Doll spends more time with Vaccaro. Vaccaro and Baby Doll have excellent chemistry and instant attraction. Meighan sees their interactions and becomes worried about the nature of Baby Doll's relationship with Vaccaro. Once he realizes Vaccaro is after not only his wife, but his crop and business too, jealousy rages in Meighan. He burns down Vaccaro's business and tries to kill him.

Cotton Crop

The main business in Vaccaro and Meighan's small Mississippi town is cotton. Vaccaro is the lead processor while Meighan struggles to turn a profit with this old machinery. Meighan's jealousy leads him to burn down Vaccaro's business, making others have to use Meighan to process their cotton. Even Vaccaro must go to Meighan now to use his gin to ready his cotton. While Meighan is trying to get his equipment to work, Vaccaro is flirting with Baby Doll. He even has her sign an affidavit claiming that Meighan burnt down his cotton gin. This helps him take over Meighan's company in the end.

Innocence and Immaturity

Vaccaro's plan to seduce Baby Doll and take over Meighan's company comes at the expense of Baby Doll's immaturity. She does not see the deeper layers of the politics between her husband and Vaccaro. Her innocence leads her to think Vaccaro, certainly a sexier man than her husband, has an attraction to her. He may think she is attractive, but Vaccaro merely uses her to get Meighan's cotton. Vaccaro once again becomes the leading cotton gin processor in their town, which was his primary goal all along. Baby Doll realizes this at the end of the movie when she asks Vaccaro to stay with her after Meighan is arrested. He would rather see his cotton processed and decides to go home.

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