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Serafina Delle Rose, a seamstress living in an Italian-American community on the Gulf of Mexico, idolizes her husband Rosario, unaware that the truck driver has been having a long-term affair with Estelle Hohengarten, a blonde blackjack dealer. Serafina, who is pregnant with her second child, is also ignorant of Rosario's smuggling activities and is completely possessed by grief when he is killed in a highway explosion while attempting to escape from the police in his truck. After suffering a miscarriage, Serafina devotes herself to mourning, even cremating Rosario's body against the dictates of the Church, so that she may keep his ashes in the house. Three years later, Serafina's pretty eighteen-year-old daughter Rosa meets a sailor named Jack Hunter at her graduation dance and falls deeply in love. Rosa introduces Jack to her mother, but Serafina, having heard that morning about Rosario's affair with Estelle, is so preoccupied with her anger and suspicion that she hardly notices them at first. While gazing at the happy young couple, Serafina's bitterness overcomes her, and she accuses the young man of wanting to violate her daughter's innocence. After Jack vows by the Blessed Virgin that he will respect Rosa, Serafina claims that she is satisfied and lets the young people go out together. Later that day, Serafina meets Alvaro Mangiacavallo, a simple-minded Sicilian-born truck driver, whose strong body reminds her of her husband and reawakens her passion. Eager to impress Serafina, Alvaro has a rose tattooed on his chest, just as Rosario had done. Alvaro's romantic overtures anger Serafina, but when she learns that he is acquainted with Estelle, she forces him to take her to the woman. When confronted by Serafina, Estelle defiantly admits that she loved Rosario and publicly displays the tattoo imprinted on her own chest. Horrified, Serafina rushes home and smashes the urn containing her husband's ashes. Later, after saying goodbye to Alvaro loud enough for the neighbors to hear, Serafina asks him to return secretly and spend the night. In the meantime, Alvaro gets drunk and passes out shortly after he arrives at the house. In the morning, a groggy Alvaro sees Rosa asleep on the couch and stares longingly at her face. Rosa awakes and runs screaming into Serafina's room. Thinking that Alvaro attacked Rosa, Serafina drives him out. Rosa, weary of her mother's vigilance and hypocrisy, angrily informs Serafina that she plans to elope with Jack, but when he arrives, Serafina surprises the couple by giving them her blessing. Alvaro then clumsily declares his love for Serafina, whereupon, at the urging of the neighboring women, she happily invites him into the house.