Rukmani is the main character who experiences conflict in this novel through a variety of experiences. The changes that occur in the book present many challenging, tragic and sad circumstances to Rukmani and her husband Nathan.
Rukmani marries Nathan, a man who is poor, a rice farmer. She married him because there was very little dowry prepared for her, so she had few choices. She has a daughter within a year of her marriage, Irawaddy, but then she does not conceive any children for many years the story tells the reader. Rukmani visits a fertility doctor on the sneak and soon has four sons, one after the other. The family is very poor, but they are content.
One of the conflicts that Rukmani encounters is her resistance to change, especially in the village. A tannery opens up and Rukmani is resentful of its presence, then two of her sons go to work there and she must accept the changes that take place in the village and her family.
Meanwhile, her daughter, Ira is married off and is soon returned for not bearing her husband any children. Ira is returned to her family for failing to produce children, Rukmani takes Ira to the Western doctor for help with her fertility, but Ira's husband takes a new wife.
Rukmani then has another child, Ruki. There is very little money and it is difficult to feed Ruki, when the money runs out, Ira becomes a prostitute to earn money to feed the baby, her little brother.
The family struggles through a terrible drought. Other conflicts that the family confront is the birth of Ira's illegitimate child who is an albino. Then the worst happens when the landowner tells Nathan, Rukmani's husband that he has sold the land that he has farmed all his life to the tannery, and Rukmani and her family are left homeless.
They travel to find one of their sons who worked as a servant, they discover that he has moved on two years prior, and abandoned his wife and children. Rukmani and her husband are robbed of their money and possessions.
Rukmani experiences every possible hardship in her life including losing her husband and her home.