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In a small Kansas town during the late 1920's, two high school students, Wilma Dean Loomis and Bud Stamper, fall in love. Frightened by their physical desires but unwilling to have a sexual relationship, their time together is filled with confusion and frustration. Furthermore, their well-intentioned parents are of little help. Wilma's mother is a domineering woman who boasts of her aversion to men and warns her daughter that nice girls do not have sexual feelings. Bud's father, Ace, is an arrogant self-made millionaire who advises his son to forget marriage until he graduates from Yale. Unable to consummate their love, either sexually or through marriage, the youngsters end their relationship. For Bud, it means both physical and emotional collapse, and, after a bout with pneumonia, he takes up with Juanita, the most permissive girl in school. Following an attempted suicide, Wilma suffers a mental breakdown and is sent away for psychiatric care. As the years pass, additional tragedy strikes Bud. His promiscuous sister, Ginny, dies in an automobile accident; and his father, whose oil holdings were wiped out by the 1929 stock market crash, commits suicide. Bud leaves Yale after failing almost all of his courses and marries a poor Italian waitress, Angelina. When Wilma is released from the sanitarium, fellow patient Johnny Masterson proposes to her and offers her the chance for a new life. Before she can accept, however, Wilma feels that she must see Bud once more. She visits him at his little farm, and they realize that they are almost strangers and that the past must be buried.