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John Singer is a deafmute who works as a silverware engraver in a small southern town. When his only companion, a retarded mute, Antonapoulos, is committed to a mental institution, Singer moves to another town in order to be near his friend. He finds work there and rents a room in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, who are having financial difficulties as a result of Mr. Kelly's recent hip injury. Because the Kellys' 14-year-old daughter, Mick, resents having to give up her room to him, Singer makes a few tentative efforts to win her friendship. He also tries to establish a rapport with Blount, a semi-alcoholic drifter, and Dr. Copeland, an embittered segregationist Negro who is secretly dying of cancer. Copeland's deepest disappointment is that his educated daughter, Portia, works as a domestic and is married to Willie Hamilton, a field hand. Following a successful attempt to win Mick's friendship by encouraging her love for classical music, Singer visits Antonapoulos, who is now suffering from a kidney infection. Although he takes his friend out for the day, Singer is more lonely than ever when he returns home. Meanwhile, Willie is jailed for defending himself against a group of white men, and subsequently he has a leg amputated after being placed in irons for trying to break jail. Feelings between Portia and her father become even more strained until Portia learns from Singer of Copeland's illness, and the two are reconciled. Mick willfully loses her virginity to Harry, the sensitive young brother of one of her classmates, when she realizes that her father's injury has permanently disabled him and she will have to leave school and go to work in order to help support the family. Profoundly disturbed by her sexual initiation, she again rejects Singer's friendship. A short time later, Singer goes to visit Antonapoulos and learns that he has been dead for several weeks. After visiting his friend's grave and saying goodby in sign language, Singer returns to his room and commits suicide. Some months thereafter, Mick brings flowers to Singer's grave and meets Dr. Copeland. As they talk, Mick explains that in a special way Singer's quiet strength has given her courage to face whatever her future may be.