Baby Doll Meighan is a pretty, vacuous Southern 'white trash' gal who at 19 still sleeps in a crib and sucks her thumb. She has been married for two years to ineffectual, bigoted Archie Lee. The couple have not yet consummated their marriage because Archie Lee promised Baby Doll's dying father that he would not touch his daughter until she said she was 'ready for marriage.' He is frustrated by this strain and obliged to peek at his squirmy half-dressed child-bride through a hole in her bedroom wall. Archie Lee is further humiliated ind incensed by a flashy Sicilian business rival who has recently managed to force Archie Lee's decrepit cotton gin out of business. One night in a fit of desperation and frustration, Archie Lee burns down his rival's cotton gin. The rest of the story describes the Sicilian's revenge as he blatantly pursues and seduces a distraught but sensually aroused Baby Doll, and attempts to terrorize her into revealing Archie Lee's crime.