Amanda Wingfield lives in poverty in a shabby St. Louis apartment with her son, Tom, and her daughter, Laura. Amanda persistently strives to give meaning to her life and the lives of her children. Tom is frustrated by his mother's nagging and drinks heavily. Laura is crippled, and this defect, intensified by her mother's anxiety to see her married, has driven her to hide inside her own mind. Things look up with an acquaintance of Tom comes to dinner with the family. Jim, the caller, is a nice ordinary fellow who is at once pounced upon by Amanda as a possible husband for Laura. In spite of her crude and obvious efforts to entrap the young man, he and Laura manage to get along well. Just when it seems that Laura has been lifted back into reality, Jim explains that he is already engaged to another woman. The world of illusion that Amanda and Laura have striven to create in order to make life bearable collapses about them. Tom, too, at the end of his tether, at last leaves home.