The story concerns mainly Ethan Allen Hawley, a former member of Long Island's aristocratic class. Ethan's late father lost the family fortune, and thus Ethan works as a grocery store clerk. His wife Mary and their children resent their mediocre social and economic status, and do not value the honesty and integrity that Ethan struggles to maintain amidst a corrupt society. These external factors and his own psychological turmoil lead Ethan to try to overcome his inherent integrity in order to reclaim his former status and wealth.

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