The book opens with a young woman, Marcia Gaylord, who is in love with Bartley Hubbard. They live in the small town of Equity, Maine, until Bartley, who is a journalist, gravely injures one of his employees. The two spontaneously get married and move to Boston, against her parents' wishes.
In Boston, they are greeted by poverty as Bartley struggles to find a position with a local paper. They struggle to fit in with upper class Boston, and make several friends, including the Hallecks, Clara Kingsbury, and Mr. Atherton.
But soon Bartley becomes more consumed by societal pressures such as drinking and gambling. He and Marcia fight more and more as she tries to save money.
After a particularly brutal fight, Marcia leaves, but only temporarily, Bartley leaves on a train to the Midwest and is robbed once he gets there, so he can't return. Marcia waits for several years for him to return, but he never does. Then she sees a notice in the newspaper announcing his plan to divorce her. She, her father, and her daughter go to Indiana to take Bartley to court. But once there, Marcia refuses to testify against him. This disapointment causes her father to have a stroke, and they return to New England, and Marcia finally moves back to Equity, where she is discontent and has no purpose.
This report prepared by Sarah Wimmer