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In a small New England town in 1906, high school senior and idealist Richard Miller believes that he was born before his time. Arthur, his older brother, attends Yale, while Mildred and Tommy, his younger siblings, live at home. Richard's father Nat edits the town newspaper and is indifferent to his son's interest in the literature of Omar Khayyám and other writers, that is, until his mother Essie decides that the books are "socialistic" and forces her husband to remove them. Despite the ban, Richard plans to use quotations from the books in a speech he has been asked to give at his commencement ceremony. Nat's brother Sid, a womanizer with a drinking problem, tries to woo Essie's spinster sister Lily, who lives with the Millers, but she rejects his numerous offers of marriage. At the commencement ceremony, Richard begins to read his speech, but when Nat notices that he is about to express anti- capitalist sentiments, he interrupts the oration and prevents the boy from continuing. Nat, realizing that Sid is in desperate need of a job and reformation, finds him work in a nearby town, but when he returns for a visit on the Fourth of July, Sid admits that he lost the job. Richard writes his sweetheart Muriel love letters, which contain quotations from Swinburne, but is forced to stop when Muriel's father intercepts them and threatens Nat with the removal of his advertisements from his newspaper. Muriel's father forbids her from seeing Richard again and forces her to write a letter in which she spurns his love. Heartbroken, Richard mopes all day long. That night, he and a friend go to the Pleasant Beach House, a drinking establishment of ill-repute, where Richard drinks and smokes and meets Belle, a vamp who plies him with liquor and then takes five dollars from him. When the bartender is tipped off about Richard's age, he ejects him. Meanwhile, Richard's family anguishes over Richard's lateness, and just as Nat and Arthur leave to search for him, the boy returns home. Sid, being a well-seasoned imbiber himself, offers to take care of the drunken Richard and nurses him back to sobriety. The next day, Belle, seeking revenge for the events of the night before, delivers a note to Nat's office, claiming that the Pleasant Saloon sold liquor to a minor. Nat glimpses the "fallen woman" on her way out and questions his son's judgment of character. Muriel, who has been punished for her correspondence with Richard, tries to explain her situation to her estranged sweetheart, but Richard, still angry with her, tells her about a wild party he went to the night before, thus sending her away in tears. Richard runs after Muriel, and following his apology, the two kiss for the first time. Prompted by Richard's experience with Belle, Nat has a talk with him about women, warning him not to fall for "whited sepulchres." Richard promises, thus restoring Nat's faith in his son's morals. All ends happily as Lily and Sid make up, Mildred finds a boyfriend, and Nat and Essie acknowledge that they are surrounded by love.