Charlotte Vale is one of the most repressed and self-esteemed spinsters in Boston, since she has spent her entire life dominated by her mother’s repressive figure. When his sister-in-law Lisa Vale takes her friend, renowned psychiatrist Jaquith, home to visit, he invites Charlotte to spend a season at her clinic. Soon, Charlotte becomes a sophisticated and self-confident woman and aims to cruise the coast of South America. Meet the architect Jerry Durrance, with whom he has an affair in Rio de Janeiro even though he is married. Six months later, he returns home and confronts his mother with his new weapons of independence and self-esteem with such virulence that the older woman suffers a heart attack and dies. Loading with the guilt of death, Charlotte decides to return to the sanitarium and stay and live there.