In 1939, Laura is a 31-year-old virgin who lives with her parents in Memphis, Tennessee, when his brother Henry McAllan starts courting her. She is not even attracted to him, but even so he decides to marry him and gives him two daughters. Hap Jackson is a farmer who rents and works the land in Mississippi, which his ancestors have been working for many generations in previous years of slavery.
He longs for one day that the earth he now works to hold. When the Second World War begins, Henry’s younger brother, beautiful and charming Jamie McAllan, and Ronsel Jackson, Hap’s big son, are both enrolled in the army. Jamie becomes a flight captain while Ronsel becomes a sergeant. Ronsel enjoys the freedom he has in Europe where he and other black soldiers are gladly welcomed by the white Europeans who consider them true liberators.
At home, Henry buys a farm in Mississippi and moves Laura and the children there without too much talk, alongside his widow’s father, a fierce racist. When Laura’s children get sick, Henry asks Florence, Hap’s wife, to help Laura care for her, and she asks him to stay as a housekeeper. After the war, both Jamie and Ronsel return, but although Ronsel is very happy to see his family, he is terribly disturbed by being treated as a second-hand citizen in Mississippi’s segregational life.