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Rachel Cameron, a 35-year-old spinster schoolteacher, feels that her life has been meaningless. She lives in a small New England town with her simpering widowed mother in an apartment over the funeral parlor that once belonged to her father. Haunted by memories of her childhood and her mortician father, Rachel spends each frustrating day taking care of her mother and working with the schoolchildren. Her closest friend is Calla Mackie, another unmarried teacher who persuades Rachel to attend a revival meeting led by Reverend Wood. There, to Rachel's astonishment, all of her pent-up frustrations are released when a visiting preacher urges her to give expression to her repressed emotions. Despite a near-hysterical breakdown and her revulsion at Calla's tentative overtures of lesbian love, Rachel realizes that only by exposing herself to life can she experience it. She therefore gives herself to a former high school friend, Nick Kazlik, who is in town for a visit with his parents. Mistaking her first sexual encounter for love, she fantasizes about a future with Nick. Her hopes are shattered, however, when Nick, put off by her seriousness, abruptly ends their affair. A short time later, Rachel discovers that she may be pregnant. Determined to accept the consequences of her actions, she decides to go away and have the child. After Calla has helped her find a teaching post in Oregon, Rachel learns that her pregnancy is merely a cyst requiring minor surgery. Though she is disappointed at her loss, Rachel's new respect for herself remains, and she decides to move to Oregon. As she leaves with her somewhat reluctant mother and looks for the last time at the familiar sights of her home town, she speculates on what the future may bring.