This intimate portrait of a coal-miner's family fastens on each member in turn: Walter Morel, the collier; Gertrude, his wife; and the children: William, Annie, Arthur, and Paul. When Mrs. Morel begins to be estranged from her husband because of his poor financial sense and his drinking habits, she comes to inhabit the lives of her children - most particularly, her sons. She is determined that they will grow to be something more than men that come home blackened with coal dust every day and roaring with drink every night. As each grows up and moves away, she must release him. But Paul, she holds; they have a bond that defies time and the attractions of young women.