(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

When her drunken father came home one night and swung at her with a broom handle, patient, hard-working Hannah Madoc pushed him off the porch in self-defense. He died a few days later, leaving his daughter orphaned and penniless, and Hannah went to work in Mrs. Boyle’s store. There, she waited on customers during the day and served the men liquor in the evening.

One night, Jule Bier saw her behind the store counter. Since the death of his wife and the piling up of debts, old Mr. Bier had struggled to make enough money from his farm to give Jule a chance in life. Cold and calculating, the elder Bier had sent Jule to work as a hired hand on the neighborhood farms. Jule began to court Hannah during long walks at night; he took her to neighborhood dances, and they went for rides in his buggy. Hannah soon tired of the attentions of other men. When Mr. Boyle attempted to make love to her, she quit her job and went to work on a farm near Jule’s home.

Old Mr. Bier sent Jule to court Selma Duncan, the oldest daughter of a wealthy farmer. Blindly obeying his father, Jule proposed to the girl and was accepted. Then he realized what he had done. Facing Hannah, he was bewildered by her grief, only half aware of his own.

Leaving the neighborhood of Sheboygan, Hannah went to Fond du Lac, where she became a prostitute and gradually lost her beauty and vitality. At last, Jule went to Fond du Lac to bring his former sweetheart back to her home. Hannah ended her years in bitter sterility, answering a call for help from a neighbor, nursing a sick calf, or taking care of someone’s children when their mother became ill. She died, prematurely aged and broken, as the result of a fall.

Jule and Selma had one daughter, Rosalia. Selma’s sister, Mrs. Strane, had a son, Dan, who was a boy of fourteen when Rosalia was in her early twenties. Mike, a young man with a keen zest for life, worked on Jule’s farm. Because his mother was so tight-lipped and because she tried to instill in him a chastity of ignorance and abstinence, Dan had developed an adolescent feeling of frustration and curiosity. He longed to know what sex was and how it affected people, but at the same time, he was overcome by an inbred feeling of shame. It was Mike who clarified matters for Dan after they became friends. Mike, who believed that life should be full of experience both physical and mental, made life’s processes a wonderful thing, not obscene and dirty, as Dan’s mother had led the boy to believe. Breaking away from the mother who had been his idol, Dan replaced her with his new friend, Mike....

(The entire section is 1064 words.)