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Bradshaw, an American journalist, comes to the West Indian island of Santa Marta to report on racial unrest and the concomitant movement to grant self-governance. Among the inhabitants of interest to Bradshaw is Maxwell Fleury, the disaffected son of a plantation dynasty. One morning, when Maxwell discovers an exotic Egyptian cigarette butt discarded in his ashtray, he begins to suspect that his wife Sylvia is having an affair. That afternoon, Sylvia, Maxwell and Maxwell's younger sister Jocelyn attend a garden party at the governor's mansion in honor of the governor's son, Euan Templeton, who is visiting the island on his way to Oxford. Also invited to the party is David Boyeur, a black activist barely tolerated by the entrenched white ruling powers. Boyeur insists that the sultry Margot Seaton accompany him to the event, even though Margot protests she will feel out of place there. At the party, Euan is immediately drawn to the alluring Jocelyn, while Margot attracts the attentions of Dennis Archer, the governor's aide. Boyeur has announced his intention to run for the legislature, and fearful of losing their dominance, the island gentry urges Maxwell to run against him. Becoming agitated when he notices that Hilary Carson, a retired war hero, smokes the same brand of cigarettes he found in his ashtray, Maxwell clashes with Boyeur, whose father once served as a slave on the Fleury plantation. However, Sylvia's sister, Mavis Norman, fondly recalls Boyeur from her childhood and befriends him. On the drive home, Maxwell, seething with anger and jealousy, accuses Sylvia of infidelity and rapes her. The next day, as they picnic at the beach, Jocelyn voices her longing to leave the island while Euan speaks of assuming his seat in the House of Lords after completing his education. Dennis, enthralled by Margot, visits her at the pharmacy where she works as a clerk and invites her to the governor's dance. Still suspicious of Sylvia, Maxwell drives into town looking for her and finds her with Carson, thus fueling his rage. At the dance, Mavis asks Boyeur to have a glass of champagne with her and confides that she would rather be useful than privileged. Dennis, now in love with Margot, takes her home and reveals his desire to be a writer. The next day, Maxwell informs his parents that he plans to run for office. When Julian, his father, expresses skepticism, Maxwell, simmering with resentment, accuses his parents of favoring their late son Arthur, who died a war hero, and then whines that he would have been better off being born black. Boyeur, meanwhile, escorts Mavis to the humble fishing village where he was born. As the town gathers for carnival, Jocelyn and Euan drive out to Maxwell's country home and are observed by a sinister figure wearing a mask. After tea, they prepare for the ride home, only to discover that someone has stolen a part from the car's engine and the phone wires have been cut, thus forcing them to spend the night together alone. The next morning, when Euan takes Jocelyn home, he proposes to her and Mrs. Fleury, worried about gossip, encourages the match. Jocelyn, however, is reticent because she is aware that Euan is soon to assume an important position in society. After Bradshaw writes an exposé about Julian's grandmother being black, Jocelyn feels betrayed by her parents and fears that her children may be black. That night, Maxwell confronts a drunken Carson in the street and forces his way into Carson's house. After Maxwell demands that Carson leave Sylvia alone, Carson makes a slur about Maxwell's racial heritage, and Maxwell, in a rage, assaults him and strangles him to death. Determined to make the murder look like a robbery, Maxwell speeds out of town and tosses Carson's wallet out along the way. When Maxwell reads a newspaper story about the wallet being found, he hurries into town to question Col. Whittingham, the officer in charge of the investigation. After mentioning the novel Crime and Punishment , the colonel confides to Maxwell he believes that Carson was murdered and that the killer will never be able to bear his guilt. The colonel then has an imaginary conversation with the killer, advising a plea of manslaughter. Maxwell, however, decides to run for the legislature, and holds a political rally. There, Sylvia reveals that Carson had come to the house on the morning of the governor's party to inquire about a charitable donation, causing Maxwell to realize his suspicions were unfounded. As Maxwell begins his speech, his words are drowned out by the contemptuous crowd, and Boyeur steps forth to quiet the assemblage. When Maxwell begins to speak extemporaneously, opportunistically trading on his black heritage, the crowd jeers. Maxwell then crumbles and spits out "I never wanted to be one of you." That night, after returning home from a date with Euan, Jocelyn confides to her mother that she is pregnant and wants to go to Canada to deliver the baby. When Jocelyn refuses to marry Euan because of her black blood, Mrs. Fleury reveals that Julian is not her real father, and therefore, she is racially pure. At his plantation, meanwhile, Maxwell, defeated, fingers the copy of Crime and Punishment that the colonel has sent. Maxwell locks himself in the bathroom with a gun, but unable to pull the trigger, smashes the mirror and then seeks out the colonel to confess. Dennis, whose relationship with Margot has displeased the governor, resigns his post and asks Margot to accompany him to London, where he intends to publish the exposé he has written about Santa Marta. Jocelyn and Euan, just married, board the plane bound for England and are followed by Margot and Dennis. As Mavis and Boyeur watch the aircraft soar overhead, Mavis suggest that they, too, travel to another country and get married. In response, Boyeur states that his skin is his country and that his people would never understand a relationship with a white woman. Mavis then walks away, alone.