Hanneh is a small, hard-working woman. She is described as a "hungry-eyed ghetto woman." Her hands are gnarled, rough and calloused from doing laundry for the rich, and recently from painting her kitchen. However, Joy radiates from her face as she looks at the kitchen she has painted for her son's return from the armed service. Yezierska writes that Hanneh has a "seething soul." She is energetic and forceful in her manner: she drags her husband in and her neighbors, so they can see the beautiful room. She is passionate about her son, beauty in the world, and the desire to enjoy democracy as Mrs. Preston has described it to her.
After the landlord demands more money for rent because of the increased value of the apartment, two months pass as Hanneh struggles to get by. She stops eating as much to save money. She appears "wasted and haggard." Then the landlord demands even more money, raising the rent now twice.
Hanneh, with her passion and burning desire to see justice done, goes to court to answer the landlord's legal demand that she be evicted from the apartment. She plans to fight to stop him from doing this unethical thing—is it right that she has done all this work for the sake of beauty, and that he is allowed to raise the rent, which they cannot pay, and throw them out to get tenants who can pay the increased rent? Though she is bent from the burden of her heartache, her determination and purpose are still strong.
However, the law supports her landlord and she returns home "hopeless and dead." The court has ruled against her and supported her landlord's claim. The butcher cannot believe this: to him, Hanneh is a woman with "her fire in her mouth." If she cannot be heard, does any one of them have a chance?
Hanneh is without hope: the only thing she still has is the vision of her beautiful kitchen.
In anger the butcher suggests that if he were in her place and he was forced to give up the apartment, he would not leave the beautiful kitchen in tact. He would destroy the beauty so the landlord could not profit from it even as he evicts Hanneh.
When Hanneh does as the butcher suggests, she finds afterward that more than hurting her landlord, she has nearly killed the heart in her. Desolation descends over her as she looks at the beautiful thing she had created that she has now destroyed—it seems to have a life of its own: though she has tried to destroy it, it lives on as something "killed" that will not die. She feels "it was her own soul she had killed."
As her appearance has deteriorated, as has the beauty she had created in her life and home, Hanneh has lost her ability to feel alive. At the end, Hanneh's son finds her:
on the sidewalk before their house was a heap of household things that seemed familiar and there on the curbstone a woman huddled, cowering, broken. Good God his mother! His own mother and all their worldly belongings dumped there in the rain.