Baby Doll (1956) by Tennessee Williams is a great classic play.
Set in 1950’s Mississippi, the play tells the story of protagonist Baby Doll’s marriage to her older husband Archie Lee Meighan. She does not want to consummate their marriage. The opening of the Syndicate Plantation has ensured that Archie’s business is going badly and he is therefore finding it difficult to look after Baby Doll and her aunt Aunt Rose Comfort. He sets fire to the Syndicate Plantation and forces Baby Doll to be his alibi. The manager of the Syndicate Plantation Silva Vacarro comes to see them. While Baby Doll is lying to the man, she and Silva also have a sexual chemistry with each other that she does not feel for her husband. Soon, they are left alone together and Silva manages to get Baby Doll to sign an affidavit saying Archie set the fire. Silva is going to go after his mission is complete but Baby Doll asks him to stay which he does.
I really like the play. I think the chemistry between Baby Doll and Silva is very well-written. I think the way she reacts with him as opposed to Archie is so different and therefore shows different sides to her personality in different circumstances. I love the way this play incorporates a lot of feminism in it. The idea of traditional roles of women is challenged as is the view that women can’t have great sexual appetites. This play puts across the idea that women have a right to be in control of their own lives and their own desires. It challenges the idea that the only things a woman is good for are motherhood and marriage and the idea that anything else we aren’t good for or that no other dreams or ambitions would even pass through our minds.
I think Williams wrote the dynamics between Baby Doll and Archie perfectly. Archie clearly wants a very submissive wife and Baby Doll increasingly is anything but. She is a strong woman who gradually begins more and more to know her worth though she always has a little bit of that even at the start but her confidence grows throughout for sure. Unable to control Baby Doll, Archie feels insecure and inferior and their two personalities and perspectives cause a lot of conflict between them. This story has a lot of gaslighting on Archie’s part as he tries to control Baby Doll. To highlight this in 1956 was very brave of Williams to do. Baby Doll is very likeable and strong but she is put down a lot by her controlling, bigoted husband who likes to start fires of his competitors’ businesses. The message is powerful: look at who is saying it and don’t listen. But that isn’t always easy to do especially when one is put down regularly and Williams writes this perfectly with great sensitivity.
An excellent read. A must-read.
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